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From the Townsend Letter
February/March 2008


Increasing Human Body Size and Its Physical and Environmental Ramifications
by Thomas T. Samaras, and Jonn Desnoes, OMD, MD, PhD

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This article reviews various factors related to increasing body size and its impact on chronic disease and longevity. The health and environmental impacts of high birthweight, rapid growth, early maturation, early adiposity and adult obesity are also covered. Additionally, the biological mechanisms that produce the differences in longevity between tall and short people are identified and explained.

Over ten years ago, we* presented little-known findings on human body size in an article entitled, "How Human Size Affects Longevity and Mortality from Degenerative Diseases" in this publication.1 This article is an update to the research findings discussed in that article. The hypothesis and research findings we presented at that time indicated that larger body size, both height and weight, resulted in increased mortality from early onset of aging and from all diseases, particularly degenerative diseases. Since then, 15 papers have been published in various scientific and medical journals supporting our findings that relate the general increase in linear body size with increased obesity, cancer, cardiovascular disease (CVD), diabetes, and decreased longevity. These recent and older findings are presented in the new book by Thomas Samaras, Human Body Size and the Laws of Scaling,2 and are summarized here. Complete references to all researchers mentioned in this paper are not given due to space limitations. However, the original sources are available from the new book, which contains over 1000 references to peer-reviewed papers, reports, and books.2

Our basic premise regarding increased height and girth and increased mortality has not changed; however, we decided to present this article as a less-technical follow-up to our original highly technical article. In fact, ten years of research has added more support to our earlier conclusions that increasing body size, both height and weight, poses a threat to our health and survival on this planet equal to and as serious as the impact of global warming. Increasing body size was the deciding factor leading to the demise of the dinosaurs, and today, we are seeing the equivalent of human dinosaurs who are eating and growing themselves into extinction.

The explosion of increased height and body size experienced by the last few generations is not a sign of good health or genetic improvement. It is, instead, a negative manifestation of an inadvertent environmental experiment gone horribly wrong, resulting from the chemical pollution of our food supply and the over-consumption of calories and protein, in particular, growth hormone-contaminated dairy and beef protein. These developments were fostered not by health or science but by corporate and political greed. The Western corporate culture, the US and some newly industrialized (and Westernized) cultures, such as those in China and India, see increasing height as a positive factor. It is not – particularly when coupled with the high incidence of obesity that usually accompanies this increase.

Europeans have been growing taller and heavier for about 150 to 200 years, and the Dutch are now the tallest people in the world with the average young male standing over six feet, one inches. Along with increasing height, we have seen body weight increase dramatically, resulting in an epidemic of overweight and obese people. Since the 1950s, the so-called secular trend in body size has also spread to Asia with the Japanese, Chinese, South Koreans, etc. exhibiting an even faster growth rate in height than Europeans have seen. Obesity and many Western-type diseases are also becoming a problem for this part of the world.

Popular belief is that our abundant and varied diet has produced taller, bigger, and healthier people. It certainly can't be disputed that the average life expectancy is sharply higher in developed nations throughout the world. However, the predominant reasons for the improved health and longevity are improved sanitation, followed by antibiotics, immunization, drugs, improved surgical and medical skills, and advanced diagnostic medical technology. These developments, and not better diet, are the primary causes of improved life expectancy in individuals of all sizes. We therefore should give our primary gratitude to the sanitation industry rather than the medical industry for our increased longevity! These aforementioned improvements have, until recently, largely neutralized the ill effects of overnutrition and larger taller bodies. Based on his research in China, nutritional biochemist T.C. Campbell believes that even small amounts of animal food increase chronic disease mortality.3 The recommended diet of low protein and calories from primarily plant foods would improve our health and also result in shorter stature and leaner bodies.

Increased height and weight used to be considered a sign of wealth by early Western societies. Since the wealthier classes had greater access to food and increased protein, they grew taller and heavier. However, today, people are taller but not healthier, and the increased height is the result of contaminants in our food supply and the over-consumption of calories and dairy proteins, particularly milk, which is full of growth hormones.

Many health experts, ignorant of research indicating otherwise, also erroneously believe that increasing height reflects better health and well-being. If one only looks at surface data, that conclusion may seem valid. For example, the literature often reports that taller people live longer.2(p.95) Yes taller people are living longer; however, that is primarily because people who are taller generally live in developed countries that offer their citizens abundant nutrition, excellent medical care, control of infections, and a relatively easy physical life. However, Deheeger2(p.149) and others observed that during the last 30 years, increasing growth patterns have increased chronic disease due to rapid growth, increased leg length, early sexual maturation, increased abdominal fat, and increased obesity. These researchers have also noted that the growing trend in obesity has paralleled increasing height; that is, developed countries are both taller and fatter compared to traditional or developing societies. Other researchers, such as Freedman, Chen, and Campbell and Singh, Singhal, Kappagoda, and Rollo have noted that excess nutrition, particularly animal protein, not only promotes increased height but also early sexual maturation, early adiposity rebound, obesity, and chronic disease.2(p.57,69,164-166)

Hoppe and Ziegler2(p.3) reported that increasing height is due to high protein and energy intake. While protein is an essential nutrient, researchers, such Crysohooou, have found that a high intake of red meat and meat products correlates with increased fibrinogen, Apo (a), and C-reactive protein – all associated with increased CVD risk.2(p.176) In addition, increased levels of protein are related to increased concentrations of growth hormones, insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), and insulin. Unfortunately, these are all related to reduced longevity (Parr, Walford, and Bartke).2(p.167,178,226) Thus, on the positive side, we have increased average life expectancy by about 30 years since 1900 through reduced infant and maternal mortality, primarily due to improved sanitation, antibiotics, and advanced medical practices, but on the negative side, we have increased a host of chronic diseases to epidemic levels. While one can argue that these chronic diseases are the result of living longer, the fact is that in the early 1900s, if one reached 50 years of age, he or she could expect to reach 70 years or more. In addition, most of the world's elderly people live in the developing countries. Many people in the developing world experience good longevity if they can survive early malnutrition, HIV and other infections, and traumas. In fact, Trowell and Burkitt reported that there was no evidence of Western diseases in developing countries 50 years ago. More recently, Lindeberg and associates2(p.168) studied the natives of an island called Kitava and found no evidence of CVD in either males or females. However, over-consumption of protein and calories that has contributed to larger but unhealthier populations is clearly evident in many developing countries. For example, due to the Westernization of countries such as South Korea and India, CVD, diabetes, and certain cancers have increased from 1000% to over 2000%, along with the increasing height and weight of their populations.2(p.85,114)

In Western societies such as the US, the current generation will experience a decrease in longevity, and it is expected that their lifespan will be ten years shorter than the current average. If this trend continues unabated, we will see the first serious decline in longevity occur, which will reverse a trend of increased longevity of each succeeding generation that has existed since the time of the Romans.

Besides our excessive intake of food, particularly protein and processed products, another problem results from our bias favoring taller height. With rapid advances in genetic engineering, it won't be long before parents will be able to create taller offspring by having their physicians transfer genes for tallness to embryos in mothers desiring taller children. If this should occur, will these taller children desire the same procedure for their offspring? Based on our culture, it is reasonable to assume that each generation would want their children to be somewhat taller than the current average height.

We feel that this irrational desire for and emphasis on taller height is purely cosmetic and has no logical benefit for the survival of the human race. In fact, Francis Galton, a British scientist, reported many years ago that tall soldiers are at least 30% more likely to be killed in combat.4 More recently, Sarna reported that taller basketball players who fought in World War II had higher mortality compared to shorter athletes who fought.2(p.54) This was probably due to the larger body size making a better target during battle conditions. In addition, larger soldiers, who might be slower and not able to crouch down as low as their shorter counterparts, were at a disadvantage. Although larger stature may have at one time been a benefit in battles that required hand-to-hand combat, in today's mechanized warfare environment, taller stature holds no benefit other than the possible advantage of intimidation over a smaller enemy. However, as was witnessed during the Vietnam War, the greater size of the American soldiers was a disadvantage against a smaller, more agile enemy who could hide more easily and survive on fewer supplies and lower food and water rations.

We must remember that, until recently, the majority of populations of this planet were of short stature. The average height of a Greek and Macedonian soldier was approximately five feet (based on information from The Treasures Of Alexander Museum exhibit). (Macedonia is now split between the former Yugoslavia and the current northern part of Greece.) King Phillip of Macedonia, father of Alexander the Great, was 4'9" tall (established by forensic evidence from his bones and armor) and Alexander was less than five feet tall. The height of the average Roman soldier was also approximately five feet. Julius Caesar, at 5'7", was very tall compared to his soldiers. Napoleon who is always used as an example of the overreaching of a short individual, was not short for his time; he was approximately 5'6", which was taller than the average height of French soldiers. It is interesting to note that Napoleon looked much taller in earlier paintings as a youthful general than as Emperor, after he had become obese, weighing approximately 200 lbs, which made him appear shorter. He also surrounded himself with the members of his elite guard, who were usually six feet or taller, making him appear short.

Taller stature, although valued in the boardrooms in big business and American presidential campaigns (an example of heightism), is primarily a cosmetically attractive feature and prior to the Westernization of foreign cultures was not necessarily one that was valued or considered important. Although physical stature and cosmetic appeal may still be an important factor in American and British politics, it does not seem important in other countries, where societies value competence and intelligence over height.

Taller stature, although currently valued for its cosmetic attraction, negatively impacts the environment and creates height bias, such as that currently in vogue in China. Height bias, or heightism, which has particularly affected males, has predominated in Western corporate culture. Statistics show that taller workers make more money and get more promotions than their shorter counterparts. This usually results in individuals being illogically promoted to the top, not because of their competence but because of their cosmetic appeal. Ironically, if one researches the physical stature of the founders of many of the corporations that foster this bias, we find that individuals of shorter than average height founded many of the corporations. Examples of successful entrepreneurs include Andrew Carnegie and Hebert Haft (5'), David Murdock and Armand Hammer (5'5"), Malcolm Forbes (5'4"), and Aristotle Onassis (5'5"). Additionally, many current leaders of Eastern and Western European nations are of shorter stature, as are the current leaders of China. If wars were still decided as they were in ancient times by the physical prowess and fighting ability of its leaders, Mr. Putin, the current leader of Russia, at 5'7", being in athletic physical condition and holding a black belt in judo, would quickly dispatch Mr. Bush (6'0") of the US and most of the other current world leaders, shorter and taller than himself.

The Founder of Akido, Morihei Ueshiba, at barely five feet tall, in one demonstration easily dispatched simultaneous multiple opponents who ranged from 5'10" to 6'5", throwing them around the room as if they were rag dolls.18 This feat was accomplished when he was close to 80 years old. Dr. Desnoes' only defeat in competitive judo was at the hands of an Italian opponent who was 5'2".

The question arises: if we are becoming obsessed with increasing body size as a cosmetically desirable trait, why is taller height valued over larger girth, which is currently seen as a negative in Western corporate and political circles? Obese individuals, regardless of height, earn less than their counterparts and are promoted less often. This is ironic since the obese individuals are usually taller than their thinner counterparts, due to excessive protein intake and early overfeeding. The fixation on tallness over girth was not always the case, Large girth and obesity, not tallness, was valued in political and corporate culture in Western societies from the 1800s to the time of the great depression in the 1930s. During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a large distended belly and large girth were signs of wealth and power. Napoleon's obesity, with protruding belly, was seen as a sign of success and power. A large belly and thick limbs were also used to indicate wealth and power in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.

As people progressively increase in height and weight, it is imperative that we evaluate the ramifications of this trend. The following material highlights some possible disastrous ecological and physical ramifications of valuing and promoting a worldwide increase in human body size.

In 1978, the first evaluation of the impact of human size on longevity suggested that shorter, lighter athletes and shorter celebrities lived longer than their larger counterparts.5 In 1990, an Ohio study of 1679 deceased men and women supported these findings.6 A third study of 373 deceased veterans and 3281 deceased baseball players was published in 1992 and confirmed previous findings.2(p.96,97,124) Mortality data from the World Health Organization (WHO) and National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health indicate that shorter or smaller bodies have lower coronary heart disease (CHD) and all-cause death rates. In addition, data from France and the American Cancer Society indicates greater longevity for shorter or smaller people of both sexes.1 A large Chinese study also indicated that larger body size is more susceptible to degenerative diseases.8 Ironically, this study is contrary to the growing illogical cultural bias in China against individuals of short stature. In a recent news report, a 5'1" woman was denied a job in China because of her short stature. Historically, shorter females in the West have been exempt from height bias; ironically, that does not seem to be the case in China and may portend a future trend towards height bias against females in the West.

The conclusions based on the preceding findings are that longevity benefits and reduced death rates from chronic disease are derived from smaller stature or size when not due to malnutrition or diseases in utero or during childhood. It is important to note, however, that while smaller size appears to increase longevity, it is only one factor out of many that determine how long an individual will live.

The Obesity Epidemic and its Relation to Birthweight and Increased Growth Rates
In our previous article, we had discussed the entropy theory of aging,9 which predicts that increasing mass lowers life span and hypothesizes that aging is the result of increasing disorder within the body. This movement towards disorder or increased entropy is related to time, the mass of the body, its energy content, and the nature of the mass and energy transactions. The entropy, S, of a system at a point in time is expressed as log g (N, U), where g = number of possible states the system can have. The number of states, g, is a function of N, the number of cells (mass), and U, the energy of the system, which is a daily average of total energy consumption. Thus, it follows from this formula that the ideal configuration for systems of the same design is one that represents the smallest combination of mass and body energy needs. Of course, the system design, interactions with the environment, and types of energy transactions are also very important to the aging process. While this is a macroscopic theory that deals with the system as a whole, the opportunity for increased microscopic disorder would appear to result simply from the greater number of cells and energy in a larger body when other conditions are equal.

Note that the entropy theory does not require that energy consumption per kilogram (kg) of body weight be low for improved longevity. While low expenditure of energy per kilogram of body weight appears to be desirable for maximum longevity, the theory does not indicate it is necessary as long as the total average energy used by the system is less. Thus, the theory does not conflict with Masoro's10 observations that the intake of calories per gram of lean body mass is about the same for smaller, long-lived, food-restricted rats as for larger, short-lived rats fed ad libitum. Research since our 1996 paper continues to support the relevance of the entropy theory.

The traditional belief is that a heavier baby is a healthier baby, and a number of studies show that infant mortality declines with increasing birthweight (BW). However, Ulizzi and associates found no trend in infant mortality for a BW range of 2500 to 4500 g in a study involving almost two million Italian subjects.2(p.156) In addition, a study by Vangen and associates found that Vietnamese born in Norway had the lowest BW and the lowest infant mortality.11 However, overall, they found no relation between BW and perinatal mortality.

A number of problems exist with increasing BW. For example, Andersson and associates reported that adult cancer doubles with increasing BW from 2745 to 4241 g.2(p.151) It is also well established that a higher BW leads to greater height, weight, and BMI in childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.2(p.101,150) Parsons and others have also noted that rapid increase in height is correlated with obesity in young adulthood.2(p.165) In addition, Monteiro found rapid gain in height and weight during the first 42 months following birth correlate with future overweight or obesity.2(p.150) Heude and Freedman have associated at least part of today's obesity epidemic to overfeeding infants and to rapid growth rates.2(p164) Early adiposity rebound and early puberty, which are related to overnutrition and rapid increase in height and weight, are also predictors of future overweight, obesity, insulin resistance, cancer, diabetes, and CVD.2(p.161)

Body Size and Longevity
It is common to read that taller people live longer or have lower overall mortality than shorter ones.2(p.95) There are certainly a number of studies that have found taller people have lower mortality than shorter people, such as Langenberg and Song.2(p.78,161) However, most of these studies have found only a small increase in mortality of ten percent to 30%. In addition, these findings are based on relatively modest numbers of deaths – sometimes less than 100. In contrast, studies showing shorter people have lower mortality are based on both small and large populations. Some studies involved over a million deaths. Some examples of studies showing shorter people have lower mortality or longer longevity are identified below:

Holzenberger and associates tracked 1.3 million Spanish military recruits for 70 years and found a highly significant correlation r = -.53 (p < .001) between height and survival based on over one million deaths.2(p.98) In California, Wild and associates found that Whites and Blacks (tallest ethnic groups) had twice the mortality of the Chinese and Japanese (shortest ethnic groups). Other studies involving elderly Hawaiian Japanese males indicated that mortality increased with height. A small Swedish study found that the longevity of elderly men and women declined at the rate of .52 y/cm of greater height (Krakauer, personal communication, July 24, 2002). This finding exactly matched the mean value of an earlier 1999 study.2(p.97)

Chan and associates12 also studied centenarians and identified short height and low body weight as possible key factors in explaining their great longevity. In addition, Okinawans have the greatest percentage of centenarians in the world, and males average 4'10" and females < 4'7". Of course, these people probably shrunk a few inches with age, but they were still short by Western standards, even in their youth.2(p.99)

Another study compared European men and women in terms of their life expectancy and difference in height. The men averaged eight percent taller than women and had a 7.9% lower life expectancy. Rollo, Miller, and Stindl have reported that differences in male-female longevity are related to differences in height or body weight in humans and animals.2(p.169)

Shorter stature among females is a result of estrogen, which closes the epipyses of the long bones. Males who are fed high soy-based diets, which are high in estrogen, or who are exposed to high levels of environmental estrogens, experience premature closure of the epipyses and shorter stature. Shorter stature is also produced by the use of anabolic steroids by young men who have not reached full height (men can continue to grow until age 30, although most men reach maximum stature by age 22). Anabolic steroids or excessive intake of testosterone aromatize into estrogen and may increase a man's estrogen level by 200%, which will result in stunted growth and shorter stature.

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