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From the Tallest to (One of) the Fattest: The Enigmatic Fate of the American Population in the 20th Century

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  • Komlos, John
  • Baur, Marieluise

Abstract

Within the course of the 20th century the American population went through a metamorphosis from being the tallest in the world, to being among the most overweight. The American height advantage over Western and Northern Europeans was between 3 and 9 cm in the middle of the 19th century. Americans were also underweight. However, today, the exact opposite is the case as the Dutch, Swedes, and Norwegians are the tallest, and the Danes, British and Germans – even the East-Germans - are also taller, towering over the Americans by as much as 3-7 cm. Americans also live shorter. The hypothesis is worth considering that this adverse development is related to the greater social inequality, an inferior health-care system, and fewer social safety nets in the United States than in Western and Northern Europe, in spite of higher per capita income. The West- and Northern European welfare states, with cradle to grave health and unemployment insurance currently provide a more propitious environment for the biological standard of living than its US counterpart.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by University of Munich, Department of Economics in its series Discussion Papers in Economics with number 76.

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Date of creation: Jul 2003
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Handle: RePEc:lmu:muenec:76

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Keywords: Height; Biological Standard of Living; Welfare State; Anthropometry; Social inequality; Health;

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  1. John Komlos & Peter Kriwy, 2001. "The Biological Standard of Living in the Two Germanies," CESifo Working Paper Series 560, CESifo Group Munich.
  2. Osberg, Lars & Sharpe, Andrew, 2002. "An Index of Economic Well-Being for Selected OECD Countries," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 48(3), pages 291-316, September.
  3. Angus Deaton, 2002. "Health, inequality, and economic development," Working Papers 270, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Center for Health and Wellbeing..
  4. de Beer, Hans, 2004. "Observations on the history of Dutch physical stature from the late-Middle Ages to the present," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 2(1), pages 45-55, March.
  5. Bruno S. Frey & Alois Stutzer, 2001. "What Can Economists Learn from Happiness Research?," CESifo Working Paper Series 503, CESifo Group Munich.
  6. Baten, Jorg & Murray, John E., 2000. "Heights of Men and Women in 19th-Century Bavaria: Economic, Nutritional, and Disease Influences," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 37(4), pages 351-369, October.
  7. Komlos, John, 1987. "The Height and Weight of West Point Cadets: Dietary Change in Antebellum America," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 47(04), pages 897-927, December.
  8. Richard H. Steckel, 1995. "Stature and the Standard of Living," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 33(4), pages 1903-1940, December.
  9. Komlos, John, 2003. "On the Biological Standard of Living of Eighteenth-Century Americans: Taller, Richer, Healthier," Discussion Papers in Economics 53, University of Munich, Department of Economics.
  10. Peter Lindert, 2003. "Why The Welfare State Looks Like a Free Lunch," Working Papers 27, University of California, Davis, Department of Economics.
  11. Paul Johnson & Stephen Nicholas, 1995. "Male and female living standards in England and Wales, 1812-1867: evidence from criminal height records," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 48(3), pages 470-481, 08.
  12. Case, Anne & Fertig, Angela & Paxson, Christina, 2005. "The lasting impact of childhood health and circumstance," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 24(2), pages 365-389, March.
  13. Robert Kaestner & Won Chan Lee, 2005. "The effect of welfare reform on prenatal care and birth weight," Health Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 14(5), pages 497-511.
  14. Robert W. Fogel & Chulhee Lee, 2003. "Who Gets Health Care?," NBER Working Papers 9870, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  15. Robert K. Triest, 1998. "Has Poverty Gotten Worse?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 12(1), pages 97-114, Winter.
  16. Komlos, John & Smith, Patricia K. & Bogin, Barry, 2003. "Obesity and the Rate of Time Preference: Is there a Connection?," Discussion Papers in Economics 60, University of Munich, Department of Economics.
  17. Sunder, Marco, 2003. "The making of giants in a welfare state: the Norwegian experience in the 20th century," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 1(2), pages 267-276, June.
  18. Cole, T. J., 2003. "The secular trend in human physical growth: a biological view," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 1(2), pages 161-168, June.
  19. Ulijaszek, Stanley J., 2003. "Trends in body size, diet and food availability in the Cook Islands in the second half of the 20th century," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 1(1), pages 123-137, January.
  20. Anne Case & Angela Fertig & Christina Paxson, 2003. "From Cradle to Grave? The Lasting Impact of Childhood Health and Circumstance," NBER Working Papers 9788, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  21. John Komlos & Peter Coclanis, . "Nutrition and Economic Development in Post-Reconstruction South Carolina: an Anthropometric Approach," Articles by John Komlos 15, Department of Economics, University of Munich.
  22. Costa Dora L., 1993. "Height, Weight, Wartime Stress, and Older Age Mortality: Evidence from the Union Army Records," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 30(4), pages 424-449, October.
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