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Anthropometry - EARLY ANTHROPOMETRIC BELIEFS, MODERN, THE MODERN POPULATION PERSPECTIVE

human body people shape

Anthropometry is the scientific study of variation in the size and shape of the human body. Anthropometric data have been used both to justify the belief in human biological “races” and to discredit this erroneous belief. This entry provides an overview of anthropometry and its relationship with “race” and racism.

EARLY ANTHROPOMETRIC BELIEFS

The earliest written records about human size date from about 3500 BCE in Sumeria. Several texts from this period mention a positive relationship between health, social status, and stature. The Sumerians were thus surprisingly astute, for this essentially echoes the current biocultural view of the causes of variation in human body size and shape. Groups of people growing and developing under social, economic, and cultural conditions that foster better nutrition and health tend to be, on average, taller and have longer arms and legs than groups of people growing up under less favorable sociocultural conditions. After more than a century of scientific research, this view may seem commonsensical, but it has not always been so.

The philosophers of the ancient Greeks, such as Plato and Aristotle (c. 350 BCE), considered living people and their cultures to be imperfect copies of an ideal type of physical human being and sociocultural system. The variation in body size and shape among various cultures was seen to be a consequence of the degree of imperfection within different societies. The Greeks of ancient Athens believed that they were closest to the ideal, and that the people of other societies were less perfect. However, the Greeks did not believe in the concept of “race,” of fundamental biological divisions of humankind. Rather, they accepted the unity of all humankind.

MODERN ANTHROPOMETRY

The term “anthropometry” was coined by Johann Sigismund Elsholtz (1623-1688), who also invented an anthropometer, a device for measuring stature and the length of body parts such as arms and legs. Elsholtz was interested in testing the notion of the Greek physician Hippocrates (460?–357 BCE) that differences in body proportion were related to various diseases. In 1881, the French anthropologist Paul Topinard (1830–1911) applied anthropometry to the study of human “races, so as to distinguish them and establish their relations to each other” (Topinard 1881, p. 212).

Another line of racial investigation was craniology, the study of the skull. The Dutch physician Petrus Camper (1722–1789) and his followers measured various angles of the facial bones to determine the race and sex of skulls. Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1752–1840), a German naturalist and anthropologist, identified five “races,” based on a visual inspection of skull shape and size. One of these was named the “Caucasian race,” based on skulls from the Caucasus Mountains region of Georgia. Blumenbach believed that the living people of Georgia were the closest to the original form of the primordial Caucasian type, with European Caucasians being the next closest to the original.

In the United States, Samuel George Morton (1799– 1851) refined the methods and equipment of craniometry. Believing that exacting measurement is more scientific than Blumenbach’s visual method, Morton invented devices to compute a dozen skull measurements. In contrast, the Swedish anthropologist Anders Adolf Retzius (1796– 1860) reduced Morton’s assortment of skull measurements to only two (length and breadth), and he applied these to the heads of living people as well. A simple ratio—head length divided by breadth, or the cephalic index—could then be calculated. One school of craniometrists proposed that “inferior” races were characterized by people with round heads, or by a ratio greater than 0.80. Northern Europeans, the alleged “superior” race, had relatively longer, narrower heads, or a ratio below 0.75. Other craniometrists, such as Paul Broca (1824–1880) disproved this fantasy by showing that all human groups, living and dead, had all types of cranial indices. In place of the cephalic index, Broca proposed that the size of the brain, and its shape, varied between the “races,” the sexes, and between individuals of higher and lower intelligence. In time, this notion was also proven false, but the belief in head shape or brain size as a determinant of “race” and intelligence persisted well into the twentieth century.

THE MODERN POPULATION PERSPECTIVE

The population approach employs an understanding of human anthropometry, genetics, demography, and socio-cultural behavior to show that there are no scientifically definable boundaries between human groups—meaning that there are no biological “races.” It is known in the early twenty-first century that there is more genetic and anthropometric variation among individuals within any of the “races” than there is between people of different “races.” Africa and Europe, for example, include populations that are both tall (Tutsi men of Rwanda average 5’8”, while Dutch men average 6’) and short (Efe Pygmy men average 4’8”, while Portuguese men average 5’6”).

It is also understood in the early 2000s that there are an unlimited number of social races, or groups of people who are defined on the basis of shared social, economic, political, and religious characteristics, as well as other cultural values such as child-rearing practices. These sociocultural traits can influence the development of biological traits. For example, racism can lead to poverty for some groups, which decreases stature and other body measurements (Komlos 1994). Some social races place infants on their backs to sleep, which tends to produce rounder heads. Social races change over time, and the anthropometric traits of these groups also change. None of these changes in body size or shape are genetic. Rather they are evidence of biological plasticity in body form during the years of growth and development (Lasker 1969). A change in the environment, such as alleviation of poverty or a change in infant sleeping position from stomach to back, will alter the body shape of the affected generation in new ways.

Body proportions, such as leg length relative to total stature, have been widely used to define “races.” In this view, Africans have the relatively longest legs, Asians (including Native Americans) have the shortest legs, and Europeans are intermediate in leg length. These proportions were believed to be immutable, but research has shown that the body proportions of a group can change significantly. Since 1960, the relative leg length of Japanese has increased to the point where it is indistinguishable from that of the British. The Maya of Guatemala are very short-legged, but Mayan children born in the United States have relative leg length that falls within the normal range of both white and black American children. The change among the Maya-Americans occurred in less than a generation, meaning that it cannot be due to genetics. Instead, it seems to be due to improvements in the total quality of their life in the United States.

Thus, at the start of the twenty-first century, a bio-cultural understanding of human development is replacing outdated applications of anthropometry. The new anthropometry is used to assess the social, economic, and political history of human groups, the health of individuals, and the well-being of the human population.

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over 5 years ago

I suffered Epilepsy early in childhood(now fully controlled)& I remember the Dr. telling my mother in 1940 that a high temporal skull sloping down towards the back parietal
indicated emotional/sensual & included Clerics, poets etc. Whereas the opposite, a high parietal sloping down from the back to the top of the temporal indicated logic & intelligence. Would you kindly inform me if this is correct? Thanks, Frank.

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over 5 years ago


A new study of Sardinian men finds height is a factor in longevity.


This new study supports over 12 previous studies that have found that shorter height promotes greater longevity. Sardinia is known as a blue zone, which means it has a remarkably high percentage of long-lived people.

Sardinians are shorter than people in the rest of Europe and tend to live longer. Within Sardinia, there is a group of 14 municipalities that exhibit higher longevity compared to the rest of the island. In addition, as height declines among these municipalities, longevity increases with the shortest municipaliity, Villagrande Strisaili, having the greatest longevity. Professor Poulain, University of Louvain (Belgium) and Dr. Salaris, University of Cagliari (Italy), led a study to determine whether there was a relationship between height and longevity among almost 500 males born between 1866 and 1915. Salaris and Poulain found that shorter men lived about 2 years longer than taller men. The results of the study were published in the journal, Biodemography and Social Biology (4/26/12): Doi:10.1080/19485565.2012.666118

This Sardinian study is consistent with a study conducted in Spain by Dr. Holzenberger. This study tracked 1.3 million men through a 70-year period and found that longevity increased with reduced height. Similar results were found in an Ohio study by Professor Dennis Miller based on about 1700 men and women. Samaras, a longevity researcher, found similar results based on baseball players, California veterans, football players, basketball players and famous people. Professor Krakauer also found that shorter elderly Swedish men and women live longer. A recent review by Professor Bartke appeared in Gerontology which supports these findings as well: DOI: 10.1159/000335166

The researchers of this study noted that women are shorter than men and live longer in virtually all populations. However, Professor Miller found that when he compared men and women of the same height, their longevity was about the same. Contrary to what was expected, Poulain and Salaris found that men live as long as women in Villagrande.

A number of scientists have observed that within a species, the smaller individual tends to live longer than the bigger one. This is illustrated by smaller dogs who live longer than medium and large size dogs. Smaller mice, rats, ponies and monkeys generally live longer as well. The Asian elephant also lives longer than the larger African elephant.

The study also provides a number of biological mechanisms that explain why smaller bodies tend to live longer. These include lower DNA damage, greater cell replacement potential, higher heart pumping efficiency, decreased C-reactive protein and higher sex hormone binding globulin.

Salaris and Poulain reported that height is only one factor in how long anyone will live. It probably constitutes less than 10% of anyone’s longevity profile. Regardless of height, anyone can extend his or her longevity by healthful nutrition, low body weight, exercise, good medical care, a positive and happy spirit, and good social relations. Therefore, tall people have the potential to reach 100 years under the right conditions.

During the last 20 years, Reventropy Associates has been involved in evaluating the ramifications of body size and height on longevity and other factors in human society. The contributors to the Sardinia study have published over 40 peer reviewed papers and books on human body size and its relation to longevity, resource consumption, and long-term human survival.

Contact: Thomas T. Samaras, Director, Reventropy Associates. email: Samarastt@aol.com, tel: 858 576 9283, 11487 Madera Rosa Way, San Diego, Ca. 92124; website: http://www.humanbodysize.com

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over 5 years ago


A new study of Sardinian men finds height is a factor in longevity.


This new study supports over 12 previous studies that have found that shorter height promotes greater longevity. Sardinia is known as a blue zone, which means it has a remarkably high percentage of long-lived people.

Sardinians are shorter than people in the rest of Europe and tend to live longer. Within Sardinia, there is a group of 14 municipalities that exhibit higher longevity compared to the rest of the island. In addition, as height declines among these municipalities, longevity increases with the shortest municipaliity, Villagrande Strisaili, having the greatest longevity. Professor Poulain, University of Louvain (Belgium) and Dr. Salaris, University of Cagliari (Italy), led a study to determine whether there was a relationship between height and longevity among almost 500 males born between 1866 and 1915. Salaris and Poulain found that shorter men lived about 2 years longer than taller men. The results of the study were published in the journal, Biodemography and Social Biology (4/26/12): Doi:10.1080/19485565.2012.666118

This Sardinian study is consistent with a study conducted in Spain by Dr. Holzenberger. This study tracked 1.3 million men through a 70-year period and found that longevity increased with reduced height. Similar results were found in an Ohio study by Professor Dennis Miller based on about 1700 men and women. Samaras, a longevity researcher, found similar results based on baseball players, California veterans, football players, basketball players and famous people. Professor Krakauer also found that shorter elderly Swedish men and women live longer. A recent review by Professor Bartke appeared in Gerontology which supports these findings as well: DOI: 10.1159/000335166

The researchers of this study noted that women are shorter than men and live longer in virtually all populations. However, Professor Miller found that when he compared men and women of the same height, their longevity was about the same. Contrary to what was expected, Poulain and Salaris found that men live as long as women in Villagrande.

A number of scientists have observed that within a species, the smaller individual tends to live longer than the bigger one. This is illustrated by smaller dogs who live longer than medium and large size dogs. Smaller mice, rats, ponies and monkeys generally live longer as well. The Asian elephant also lives longer than the larger African elephant.

The study also provides a number of biological mechanisms that explain why smaller bodies tend to live longer. These include lower DNA damage, greater cell replacement potential, higher heart pumping efficiency, decreased C-reactive protein and higher sex hormone binding globulin.

Salaris and Poulain reported that height is only one factor in how long anyone will live. It probably constitutes less than 10% of anyone’s longevity profile. Regardless of height, anyone can extend his or her longevity by healthful nutrition, low body weight, exercise, good medical care, a positive and happy spirit, and good social relations. Therefore, tall people have the potenial to reach 100 years under the right conditions.

During the last 20 years, Reventropy Associates has been involved in evaluating the ramifications of body size and height on longevity and other factors in human society. The contributors to the Sardinia study have published over 40 peer reviewed papers and books on human body size and its relation to longevity, resource consumption, and long-term human survival.

Contact: Thomas T. Samaras, Director, Reventropy Associates. email: Samarastt@aol.com, tel: 858 576 9283, 11487 Madera Rosa Way, San Diego, Ca. 92124; website: http://www.humanbodysize.com

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over 5 years ago

There is a positive relation between height and health. In addition, height is strongly correlated with higher socioeconomic status. However, the widely held view that taller height is inherently healthier is incorrect. The reasons for my position are as follows:

1. Dr. Holzenberger's study of 1.3 million men tracked over a 70 year period found that shorter men lived longer.

2. US national data show that shorter Asians have the lowest all-cause mortality when compared to taller Whites. In between populations, such as the Latinos and Native Americans, are shorter than Whites and have lower mortality except for the shorter Asians. Source: Health United States, 2001.

3. Developed populations with the highest life expectancies tend to be relatively short compared to the tallest Western European nations--Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, and Germany, The shorter populations rank 3.5 from the top compared to 29 for the taller populations.Source:
Samaras in Experimental Gerontology

4. Okinawans and Sardinians are noted for their high percentages of centenarians. They also have low cardiovascular disease. Both populations are quite short. Source:Dr. B. Willcox.

5. Scientists have found that within a species, the smaller lives longer than the larger. This is obvious in dogs, mice, rats, horses and Asian vs African elephants.

6. Women live longer than taller, larger men. A study found that small male mice lived longer than their normal size female siblings. Professor D. Rollo also observed this in animals. An Ohio study by Professor D. Miller found that when men and women of the same height were compared, there was little difference in longevity. My own studies showed that men lost .5 year per centimeter of increased height compared to women. When I compared taller and shorter men, I found the same .5 year per centimeter in reduced longevity. A Swedish study of elderly people also found a .5 year per centimeter loss of life as well.

7. Researcher Dr. Maier and her associates reported that among 90 year olds, the shorter ones live longer. Dr. L. Yates' study also showed that shorter, lighter people were more likely to reach 90 years of age.

8. When men and women in a low socioeconomic class were compared based on height, tall people had substantially higher risk factors for heart problems. Thus, removing the advantage of higher socioeconomic status also removed the protection that taller people had. A comparison among women in Fiji, Japan and Vietnam showed that as the population got shorter, risk for heart disease declined as well.

About 40 books and articles that document findings showing healthy shorter people have inherently superior longevity benefits are available from: www.humanbodysize.com