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Growing Americans Aren't Always a Bad Thing

We hear a lot of about the epidemic of our ever-increasing size, particularly in America. We hear a lot of about the obesity of children, about the dangers and health risks. I believe them to be true, and I know you do as well.

But today, I read some good news. And that is always heartening.

The New York Times published a fascinating article about an upcoming book by 85-year-old, Rogert W. Fogel, a Nobel-prize winning economist.

Cambridge University will release next month, "The Changing Body: Health, Nutrition, and Human Development in the Western World Since 1700.

Fogel and his co-authors write with the premise that, "in most if not quite all parts of the world, the size, shape and longevity of the human body have changed more substantially, and much more rapidly, during the past three centuries than over many previous millennia.”

Something to which I have noticed both from my own historical and genealogical research ... and with my own eyes. As I'm sure you would concur, today's teens seem be be growing taller with every new class.

The authors of, "The Changing Body," believe the reason for this substantial increase in size and longevity is primarily due to our ever increasing technology and improvements in both nutrition, food production and public health. I would also mention that those advances combined with our modern ability to educate and communicate principles in those stated areas have also made an impact toward these advances.

An area particularly noted was public health practices; protecting water supplies, installing sewage systems, hand washing and quarantining in hospitals. These were practices instituted in American cities as early as the 1890's.

Leading sociologist from the University of Pennsylvania, Samuel H. Preston said, “I don’t know that there is a bigger story in human history than the improvements in health, which include height, weight, disability and longevity.” He also said that without the improvements made in the 20th century in nutrition, sanitation and medicine, only half of the current American population would be alive today.

"The Changing Body" is a staggering accumulation of graphs and statistical tables; of diets and social and pubic norms from every cross section of society and the world.

The New York Times says:
"To take just a few examples, the average adult man in 1850 in America stood about 5 feet 7 inches and weighed about 146 pounds; someone born then was expected to live until about 45. In the 1980s the typical man in his early 30s was about 5 feet 10 inches tall, weighed about 174 pounds and was likely to pass his 75th birthday.

Across the Atlantic, at the time of the French Revolution, a 30-something Frenchman weighed about 110 pounds, compared with 170 pounds now. And in Norway an average 22-year-old man was about 5 ½ inches taller at the end of the 20th century (5 feet 10.7 inches) than in the middle of the 18th century (5 feet 5.2 inches)."
As a lover and student of history, the graphs and statistical analysis are fascinating. But far more compelling to me was their prevailing and poignant argument that the health and nutrition of pregnant mothers and their children are paramount to the contribution toward longevity of the next generation. The New York Times states that if babies are deprived of sufficient nutrition in the womb and early in life, they will be more fragile and more vulnerable to diseases later on. These weakened adults will, in turn, produce weaker offspring in a self-reinforcing spiral.

There couldn't be a more clarion call to the mothers and future mothers of our day to make a priority the health and nutrition of themselves, not for their own sake as much as for the sake of the future generations that will be birthed through their womb.

Mr. Fogel, 85, has lived through and experienced; The Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam and Korean wars, the Berlin Wall and the Middle East Crisis, not to mention seeing the first human walk on the moon. He also has seen the inventions of; garage door openers, bread slicers, bubble gum, sunglasses, the chocolate chip cookie, electric guitars, computers, deodorant, corn dogs, microwave ovens, and credit cards ... to name just a few.

Back to the epidemic of obesity. Fogel is optimistic, despite the alarming statistics. While he admits he didn't think he would have to consider "overnutrition" as part of his study, he remains convinced that the human body is enormously responsive and he is confident that “the trend of larger bodies and longer lives will continue into the future.”

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