Simon: Maybe We Should Eat Better If We're To Be Taller Height is not accomplishment or character, Scott Simon writes, but the authors of a recent study caution that height can be related to health.
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Simon: Maybe We Should Eat Better If We're To Be Taller

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Simon: Maybe We Should Eat Better If We're To Be Taller

Simon: Maybe We Should Eat Better If We're To Be Taller

Simon: Maybe We Should Eat Better If We're To Be Taller

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/488022765/488027829" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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You obviously don't need to be tall to be an all-star. You can be 6-foot-6 like pitcher Chris Sale (L), 6-foot-2 like outfielder Mike Trout (C) or 5-foot-5 like second baseman Jose Altuve (R). Most societies have grown taller over the past century, but the rate in places with poor health and access to food has declined or plateaued. Dennis Poroy/Getty Images hide caption

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Dennis Poroy/Getty Images

You obviously don't need to be tall to be an all-star. You can be 6-foot-6 like pitcher Chris Sale (L), 6-foot-2 like outfielder Mike Trout (C) or 5-foot-5 like second baseman Jose Altuve (R). Most societies have grown taller over the past century, but the rate in places with poor health and access to food has declined or plateaued.

Dennis Poroy/Getty Images

Americans might have a national self-image of being tall and rangy: think Gary Cooper, Michael Jordan, or Taylor Swift.

It turns out that we may look more like Judy Garland or Kevin Hart.

During these past two weeks in which America has been praised, panned, and hyperbolized at political conventions, Imperial College in London came out with a study that shows size-wise, Americans may have topped out.

Researchers scoured height data of young adults in over 200 countries between 1914 and 2014. South Korean women and Iranian men have shot up by averages of 6 and 7 inches. American men and women have grown only about two inches taller in that time, with no measurable increase for the past 20 years.

America once had the third tallest men in the world, and fourth tallest women. Today, it's 37th and 42nd place.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with growing taller at a smaller rate, or being short, on the order of Napoleon, Gandhi, Tom Cruise or Dr. Ruth. Height is not accomplishment or character. But the authors of the study caution that height can be related to health.

Most societies have grown taller over the past century. But the average height of people in Sierra Leone, Uganda, and Rwanda, for example, has declined by more than an inch. Those countries are among the poorest in the world, where food can be scarce and health care hard to find.

Professor Majid Ezzati, the study's lead researcher, said, "This confirms we urgently need to address children and adolescents' environment and nutrition on a global scale..."

But he also noted that the 10 countries where men and women are tallest are in Europe: the Netherlands, Estonia, Latvia, Belgium, for example.

"(T)he English-speaking world, especially the USA, is falling behind other high-income nations in Europe and Asia Pacific," said the professor. "Together with the poor performance of these countries in terms of obesity, this emphasizes the need for more effective...nutrition throughout life."

Which may be academic talk for, "Put down the chicken nuggets, pick up the celery."

These kinds of occasional rankings can be entertaining. But they're not truly competitions. The average height of Chinese men and women has increased by almost 4 inches, especially since the 1970's. The spread of better health, nutrition, and prosperity to China, South Korea, and other parts of the globe have been good for the world.

But you do wonder: are the Dutch so tall because of Gouda cheese? Should Americans should eat more Edam, and less Cheddar?