As if the media needed another excuse to push government-run health care and assault the fast food industry. Now they’re blaming two of their favorite issues for a reduction in height in the United States.
“New research shows that Americans are coming up short,” said “Good Morning America” host Robin Roberts on June 19. “Not in terms of money, not in terms of lifestyle. We’re talking height. In fact we are the shortest population in the industrialized world.”
The “new research” she referred to is a seven-month-old University of Munich study by John Komlos and Benjamin E. Lauderdale, and the data were only compared with what the study called the “advanced industrialized world” – Western and Northern Europe, where state-run health care is a staple of life.
Yet, the authors of the Komlos-Lauderdale study admitted their conclusions are open to doubt. “We do not claim to have provided conclusive evidence for Americans’ height evolution,” stated the report – a detail not included in the “Good Morning America” story, the Krugman column or a similar story on NBC’s “Today” back in April.
The study stated Americans were the tallest in the world between colonial times and the middle of the 20th century, but have since become shorter than Western and Northern Europeans. The study did not include Hispanics and Asians born outside the United States so that the “genetic factor” would not skew the data, it said.
However, the Komlos-Lauderdale study does include second-generation Hispanic and Asian immigrants – although the authors didn’t consider those groups to affect national height.
“Admittedly, this does not rule out second-generation immigrants from the data set, but there are several reasons to think that this is not very likely to be the cause of the patterns reported here,” stated the study.
Downplaying the impact of that ever-increasing pool of second-generation immigrants – which accounts for at least 12 percent of the American gene pool – might not give an honest assessment of the data, said Dr. Elizabeth Whelan, president of the American Council on Science and Health.
“Genetics are the primary factor that affects height,” Whelan told the Business & Media Institute.
So what was the point of the study? Komlos and Lauderdale concluded that although Americans are living more affluent lifestyles than most Europeans, the lower cost of health care in Western and Northern Europe, along with dietary considerations, has led to a decline in average American height.
ABC News Correspondent John Berman narrowed it down to the world’s tallest country on the June 19 “Good Morning America.” “The world’s tallest country? The land of tulips and wooden shoes, The Netherlands,” said Berman.
Komlos clarified the study’s findings in Spiegel Online on May 22. "We surmise that the health systems and high degree of social security in Europe provide better conditions for growth than the American health system, despite the fact that the system costs twice as much," said Komlos. "There are also indications that American diets are deficient in several areas."
But as Scott Atlas of the Hoover Institute pointed out in the Pittsburgh-Tribune Review on June 17, even the Dutch system is not without fault and they are moving away from their system of reliance on government for health care, suggesting there is a degree of dissatisfaction and this is a trend throughout Europe.
“In the Netherlands, where health care is a basic public right, the Dutch are reforming, adopting a system of private health insurance,” wrote Atlas.
The other factor contributing to The Netherlands height superiority in the world is the allegedly healthier eat habits of the Dutch. “Another reason might be the American diet, filled with fast food,” added Berman.
Berman’s report insinuated American’s are constantly binging on McDonald’s fast food and this is stunting their growth. “Overeating can cause kids to produce too much growth hormone too early and stop growing at a younger age,” Berman said.
According to Whelan, a Business & Media Institute adviser, premature puberty can impact height, but she believes blaming that on fast food is conjecture.
“The causes [of producing too much growth hormone] are idiopathic, or unknown,” said Whelan. “To contribute this to nutrition is pure speculation.”
Whelan also made case that just because it is “fast food” doesn’t necessarily mean it is different than the food Americans have consumed before the easy availability of fast food. She compared a serving of French Fries, what she called the “ultimate junk food,” to “a baked potato with two pats of butter that mom would serve at dinner” as essentially being the same thing nutritionally.
“One thing about food is that it is a highly emotionally charged issue,” said Whelan.