The purpose of this blog is to dispel the many falsehoods about height that our society has propagated for over a hundred years. The positions taken here are not based on subjective feelings but on scientific and empirical evidence. My findings are based on about 38 years of research into the various aspects of increasing “body size” (i.e., greater height and associated weight). These findings have been published in about 40 scientific and medical journals and academic books (see www.humanbodysize.com for a complete list of my publications).
I realize that changing one’s long-held beliefs is difficult. However, if you are reading this blog, you probably have a curious mind and can think “out-of-the box.” You also probably have a strong interest in your health and the health of your family. Human survival over the next 100 years is probably of interest to you as well. These are topics covered below.
I would like to emphasize that my aim is not to make short, tall, heavy or lean people feel good or bad about themselves. “Body size” is a product of genetics, nutrition and environment. In addition, there are jobs which are better suited for short and tall people. However, my concern is what is the best height and weight for future generations based on survival of the human race. In addition, independent of body size, we can all do things now to improve our health and minimize ecological damage to the earth.
As an engineer and business graduate, my body size research over the years was based on a systems approach, which involved exploring the ramifications of increasing human height and weight in relation to longevity, health, nutrition, physiological factors, economics, resource consumption, and ecology. Keep in mind that while obesity is a major problem for the world, my focus of my research was on increased height and associated weight due to larger bones, muscles and organs--obesity was not a major element in my studies.
While there are definite advantages to being taller and bigger, overall smaller size is better for one’s health and for “humanity’s survival”. The benefits of shorter, lighter bodies are greater longevity, reduced chronic disease, lower mortality, fewer physical limitations, certain superior physical attributes, conservation of resources, in spite of longer longevity, and improved environmental factors, such as reduced air and water pollution. It is important to note that smaller bodies based on moderate protein and caloric intake are the healthiest and are more likely to reach centenarian status. Many short and lean populations following their traditional plant-based diets are free of coronary heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers. The males in these populations average 5’ to 5’4”. For example, in a recent issue of Nutrition Action Health Letter, Walter Willett reported that northern Europeans have 10 times the heart disease as southern Europeans. Other studies show that southern Europeans, Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Greece, are shorter than northern Europeans.
The following highlights other advantages and disadvantages related to the worldwide increase in body height and weight.
Inherent advantages of being taller
Taller people tend to have bigger muscles and have greater strength. They can also run and swim faster. They excel at basketball, pitching, football and swimming. They also have lower resting heart and metabolic rates, which are generally viewed as positive health factors. In addition, society favors taller people over shorter ones in promotions and business success.
Inherent advantages of being shorter or smaller
Shorter people are stronger in proportion to their body weight. They also have faster reaction times and greater ability to take in oxygen rapidly during physical activity. They are better able to life their body weight, as in chinning or push-ups. They can rotate faster and are more agile. They also are less likely to experience heat stroke. They make good long distance runners, figure skaters, gymnasts, divers, and martial artists. They also excel in certain skiing events. In warfare, they provide smaller targets and are less likely to be killed.
Some of the longest living people are quite short. In fact, Chan, Suzuki, and Yamamoto stated that if you want to live to 100 years of age, being short and lean gives you an advantage. An Italian report based on 2500 centenarians also reported the same finding.
Biological Mechanisms related to greater longevity of smaller or shorter people
A number of biological factors explain why smaller body size is related to greater longevity. For example, larger people have trillions of more cells. Most cells can duplicate themselves 50 to 100 times. Producing more cells and replacing them as they become defective lowers the ability of cells to replace defective cells at older ages because their replication ability is used up earlier in life.
Telomeres are at the ends of chromosones and their length is a function of how many times the cell has replicated itself. Longer telomeres are associated with longer life and better health. Elderly shorter people have longer telomeres and shorter women have longer telomeres than men. Besides height, the lengths of telomeres are affected by lifestyle, exercise, and nutrition.
More cells mean greater exposure to carcinogens and as result increase cancer rates in taller people. This has been shown to be true in many studies, including a comprehensive report published by the World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute of Cancer Research.
Shorter, smaller people generally eat less than taller and heavier people under similar lifestyles. More food means the bigger body is exposed to more harmful toxins, carcinogens, and free radicals. That’s why greater height and weight are related to higher cancer risk.
Other advantages of smaller body size or shorter height include lower DNA damage and lower levels of C-reactive protein and various lipids but higher levels of sex hormone binding globulin, which is related to reduced cancer and all-mortality. Lower blood pressure, atrial fibrillation and higher heart pumping efficiency are other benefits of shorter, lighter people.
A note on conflicting “epidemiological studies” on height and health
It’s important to note that epidemiological studies often conflict. Even when medical beliefs are based on extensive research and numerous publications, there will usually be a study which contradicts commonly accepted findings. Therefore, one or two studies cannot be taken as proof of a relation between two variables. However, my conclusions are based on a variety of studies, including ecological, cohort, retrospective, cross-sectional, and descriptive. Most epidemiological studies related to height involve less than a hundred to a few thousand deaths. However, my findings involve millions of death. In addition, they include data from different ethnic groups and various populations worldwide. The findings showing that shorter people live longer are highly consistent; e.g., many studies find a loss of 1.3 years for every inch increase in height.
I’ll just highlight my findings. Details are presented in my papers and two books: Human Body Size and the Laws of Scaling: Physiological, Performance, Growth, Longevity and Ecological Ramifications, Nova Science Publishing, NY, and The Truth About Your Height.
Resource, water and food consumption
There is no free lunch when it comes to greater human body size. Bigger bodies require more of virtually everything under the same living conditions. They need more food, water, metals, minerals, and plastics to accommodate their greater dimensions. Bigger cars, airplanes and buildings need more energy as well. Arne Hendriks is leading a groups of designers, artists and scientists in evaluating the impact of smaller people on our lives. Arne Hendriks’ group is centered in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, and involves a speculative study of reduced human size entitled: The Incredible Shrinking Man.
Pollution of the atmosphere, water, and land
In the US, we raise 9 billion animals per year for food. They produce various waste products, including gases and toxins that pollute our land, water and atmosphere. In addition, valuable acreage is needed to grow food for these animals. Thus, bigger people need more food of every sort and consequently aggravate the destruction of our environment.
Intelligence and creativity
People tend to think taller people are more successful and creative. Certainly, our society’s bias drives taller people into positions of leadership.
However, intelligence is not related to tallness per se. However, higher income families tend to be taller and their children are afforded enriched environments compared to shorter poorer children. However, if we look at high achievers over the past as well as today, we find that many were short. A few examples that range from less than 5’ to 5’7” follow.
Mozart, Mahler, Beethovan, Stravinsky, Pablo Picasso, Juan Miro, Michelangelo, Salvador Dahli, Einstein, James Madison, Alexander the Great, Caesar, Buckminster Fuller, Frank Lloyd Wright, Pele, Bruce Lee, Jet Lee, Jackie Chan, Tara Lipinski, Scott Hamilton, Jack LaLanne, Al Pacino,
Anthony Hopkins, Dustin Hoffman, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Keats, Joan of Arc, Alexander Pope, Charles Steinmetz, General Giap, Admiral Nelson, Admiral Rickover, General Sumpter, Price Eugene of Austria, Muggsy Bouges (basketball), Joe Walcott (boxing) and Pamela Reed (ultra marathon running). For many more famous short people, see www.shortsupport.org
Our modern food system, health and the obesity epidemic
Professor Popkin, a nutritional scientist, and Geoffrey Cannon, a food and nutrition policy expert and editor of the journal World Nutrition, have noted that the food system developed over the last 150 years has had disasterous results in terms of our health. In addition, Professor of Nutritional Biochemistry, T Colin Campbell, Cornell University, has long held that the Western diet, based on animal protein, has been the source of many of health problems. In his book, The China Study, he recommends a plant-based diet. In a recent issue of Nutrition Action Health Letter, Professor Walter Willett, Chairman of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard, also reported that the evidence is very strong favoring low intakes of red meat. He also recommended avoidance of simple carbohydrate, fruit juices, sugar and salt. The Tuft Health and Nutrition Letter also reported that red meat and process meats promote cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and all-cause mortality.
The obesity epidemic has its roots in our food system which promotes larger size infants, rapid growth, early sexual maturation and greater height. Studies show that higher birth weight with rapid growth in height and weight often lead to overweight and obesity. The observations of a few sources follow:
World Cancer Research Fund: move to industrialization has promoted greater height and weight in parallel with increased chronic diseases.
K. Silventoinen: the Western diet promotes increased height and coronary heart disease.
Jonathan Wells: Cardiovascular disease has increased in parallel with increased height during the 20th century.
A. Singhal: Catch-up or accelerated growth promotes health problems in both humans and animals.
U. Erasmus: Early maturation and greater height lower longevity.
D. Burkitt: We have seen an explosive growth in Western chronic diseases during the 20th century. Note: this paralleled the increase in height and weight of the average person.
W. Willett: coronary heart disease was rare early in the 20th century.
T. Colin Campbell: Being bigger comes with a high cost in terms of health.
C. D. Rollo: taller humans have higher cancer rates and reduced longevity.
Thus, our desire to see our children grow rapid and tall has driven the obesity epidemic. Of course, constant reminders from the food industry to eat more and frequently has added to our obesity epidemic. Failure to re-educate the public in good eating habits, starting before pregnancy, will lead to more obesity, diabetes, cancer and other health problems.
Health considerations for tall and short people
An enormous amount of nutrition and health data are available to help us in maintaining our health. Scientists have shown that increased weight promotes chronic diseases, such as coronary heart disease, diabetes, and many cancers. The traditional Mediterranean diet seems to be the preferred diet. That is, lots of vegetables, fruits, olive oil, whole grains, lentils, beans, and hi fiber but not many animal products and processed foods. A plant-based diet appears to be the best for keeping us fit and healthy at older ages. Avoidance of saturated fat, salt, and excess calories is good for short, medium and tall people. However, tall people need to keep leaner than short people. Taller people tend to have increase in weight in proportion to their height cubed (Samaras, Human Body Size and the Laws of Scaling).
In the developed world, higher education and socioeconomic status is strongly related to lower mortality from cardiovascular disease and all causes. This is especially true for those who have had the good luck to have lived in an better environment for all phases of their lives rather than in just one phase. These phases are childhood, young adulthood and older ages.
With good nutrition, modern medical advances and medical care, both short and tall people can attain advanced ages. Your lifestyle and personal habits are keys to maintaining a well-functioning body into advanced ages. Unfortunately, you can’t expect to erase health problems by changing your habits late in life although it will help.
Some interesting side notes
We are told that abundant nutrition is important for growth and health.
However, hundreds to thousands of studies have found that caloric restriction with a well-balanced diet promotes better health and greater longevity. Let’s take a look at a few findings contradicting the “more is better” thesis.
Caloric restriction (CR) has been found to consistenly extend longevity (A. Bartke in the book: Human Body Size and the Laws of Scaling). Hundreds of studies involving different types of animals have confirmed that a 20 to 30% reduction in calories can extend longevity by about 20 to 30%. While most studies have used animals, an increasing number of studies are showing that CR works for monkeys and humans. In addition, research indicates that times of sparse nutrition, can have beneficial effects. Few examples follow.
1. During the lean years of WW II, European mortality dropped substantially according to Denis Burkitt (see his book: Western Diseases).
2. Adults exposed in late pregnancy to the WWII Dutch famine had lower death rates compared to adults born after the famine.
3. Adults conceived or born during the Great Leap Forward famine in China
had a longer life expectancy than those born before or after the famine.
4. Adults born during the Great Depression in the US, had the biggest jump in life expectancy compared to previous and subsequent years. In addition, infant mortality dropped during the depression. Mortality at different ages also showed a decline during the Great Depression.
Caution: Anyone planning to go on a caloric restricted diet should discuss it with his or her doctor and a professional nutritionist. Care is needed to avoid protein, vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
Is it smaller size or caloric restriction which promotes greater longevity?
Studies show that both smaller size and caloric restriction independently increase longevity. In addition, Professor C. David Rollo found that smaller body size was even more effective in extending longevity when compared to CR (see: Human Body Size and the Laws of Scaling).
What should we do?
Eating a low sugar, low starch and high complex carbohydrate plant-based diet is the major strategy for reducing human size and its impact on our environment, resource needs, fiscal costs, and long-term survival. In addition, reducing our caloric intake will provide health benefits and reduce medical costs. These costs are skyrocketing and failure to improve our health will result in unbearable future costs. Producing health people will result in longer and more productive lives.
Links to Samaras’s commentary and website
Commentary available in 22 languages
Editorial on commentary
Samaras’ website (includes list of his publications)