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Why Smaller Humans Are in Our Future

By Thomas T. Samaras | 10/20/2014

CREDIT: Ryger (CC)

In nature, when animals get big, their numbers decline to match the resources available. Humans are violating this biological rule by producing not only larger beings but more of them. Since larger people (taller and heavier) require much more of virtually everything, we are aggravating resource, food, and water shortages, and accelerating environmental damage. We are thus faced with a hard choice: do we control the process of getting smaller in a rational way or do we avoid action and let nature take its painful course?

The gerontologist Dr. Alexander Comfort noted that within the same species, smaller individuals tend to live longer than bigger ones. I have studied the ramifications of increasing body size on a variety of factors related to our health, performance and survival for about 38 years. Based on these findings, I have concluded that the increasing body size of humans is a threat to our survival and quality of life.

Even though conventional wisdom holds taller height as if it was a "sacred cow," this belief is based on many years of prejudice and a variety of limited scope studies showing that taller, heavier people are healthier and smarter. Although I agree that we have grown taller and heavier due to increases in food availability; improved sanitation, better medical care, incredible advances in medical science and improved standards of living are the real factors that have promoted greater life expectancy at birth over the last 150 years. While our increased body size correlates with the reduction of many diseases and a longer life expectancy, this correlation does not prove that taller, heavier bodies are good for survival of the human race. In fact, my research over the last four decades indicates that there are many benefits to being smaller if smaller body size is not due to malnutrition, congenital defects, poor living conditions or disease. For example, Okinawans are shorter, healthier, and live longer than the average mainland Japanese who live longer than almost all world populations, including the tallest countries.

I am not alone in the belief that increasing height is not a blessing. For example, the famous anthropologists, Ashley Montagu and C. Loring Brace, reported that we have a false belief that we are creating a better breed of people because we are producing larger children. In addition, the medical researcher, A.R.P Walker, stated that maximizing growth reduces health and longevity. Peter Farb, a former consultant to the Smithsonian Institute, also observed that our increased height and weight are not due to better nutrition but to excess nutrition. Geoffrey Cannon, former chairman of the National Food Alliance, in his book The Fate of Nations stated that "rapid growth, early menarche and greater adult height increase the risk of breast cancer." He disagrees with the principle that accelerated growth equals health and that animal protein is the master nutrient. In fact, he states that these two factors have had disastrous results.

In the July 2011 issue of World Nutrition, an editorial pointed out that the eminent professor John Waterlow stated: "We will have to accept that future generations will be smaller, leaner, and perhaps slower….The declaration in the UN Convention on Human Rights that all people have a right to fulfill their genetic potential, does not seem realistic if the race is to survive." The idea that we should attain our genetic potential may be right sometimes, but it is obviously wrong when it comes to attaining a weight of 300 pounds or having individual males produce hundreds of children because they have the genetic potential to do so. I certainly believe this is also true for increased height and associated increases in muscle, bone and fat.

In the near future our genetic potential for height will be subject to genetic manipulation by medical practitioners. With the high value our society places on tallness, this manipulation will assuredly lead to even taller people. If parents continue to want their children to be taller than average, what height will we eventually decide is tall enough?

Certainly taller people enjoy a number of benefits in our society, including higher socioeconomic status, better education, improved opportunity to succeed, physically stronger, and perceived to be more socially desirable. Most of these benefits are related to social biases and are culturally driven. However, if we look at body size objectively, my research indicates that smaller people can be highly creative, productive and athletic. In addition, they require fewer resources and less food, water and energy to function within the same lifestyle as taller, proportionately heavier people. Growing human needs, driven by increased body size, are substantial; the degree of this growth is illustrated by National Football League (NFL) players who are over 300 pounds. In 1970, there was only one player in the NFL that was 300 or more pounds. In 2009 there were almost 400 players at that weight. There is no doubt that increased human size threatens human survival as described in the book: Human Body Size and the Laws of Scaling: Physiological, Performance, Growth, Longevity and Ecological Ramifications,2007.

An article in the July 2011 issue of National Geographic magazine reported that: "A crisis is looming: To feed our growing population, we'll need to double food production. Yet crop yields aren't increasing fast enough." The article, however, ignored the fact that increasing body size will make our food shortages even worse because bigger bodies need more food at a rate almost proportional to body weight. Over the past 70 years, the average weight increase of American middle-aged males has been about 45 pounds. Assuming that 50 percent of the population is in the middle age category and that both sexes have increased by 45 pounds, the bio-mass that we need to feed has increased by roughly 7 billion pounds in the US alone.

Another consumption example is provided by CDC researcher, Dannenberg, who found a mere ten pound increase in average US weight requires an additional 350,000,000 gallons of airline jet fuel per year. Since 1940, our weight has increased by 4.5 times the weight used in his analysis. My own analysis has found that a future US population of 10 percent taller people with the same body proportions will require huge amounts of additional food, water, raw materials, farmland and energy. For example, we would need an additional 400 million tons of metals, minerals and plastics per year.

 (Excerpt republished under Creative Commons. For the full text, visit Smaller Humans.)

 

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