A writer for the NY Times published one of the most bizarre articles I've ever read in the health section of a news giant: "Should a war on shortness be one of the goals of health care reform?" On my first read-through, I couldn't determine whether Mr. Engber was being serious or satirical, but on review I'm certain it's the former.
Though he isn't clear about it, what he's really talking about is switching the over-refined focus on obesity to malnutrition. "Stature," he says, "can serve as a crude measure of public health. If everyone came from a perfect home, the average height across the population would be a function of our genes alone...Anything less than an ideal standard of living tends to stunt a child’s growth." So he isn't advocating eugenic horrors, but using average height to track how successful we are in getting nutrients into kids.
His argument isn't that radical, when you think about it, though the stats he uses to back it up have as many holes as a buttered crumpet. For example, he cites that "male college graduates are, on average, more than an inch taller than men who never finished high school" and "a decrease in a man’s height...is associated with a dip in earnings." As much as we hate to say it, the first statistic probably has little to do with height and a lot to do with race. 38% of white male high school graduates, who are an average of 70 inches tall, earn a bachelors by age 26. Hispanic males are an average of 67 inches tall, and only 18 percent of Hispanic high school graduates obtain a bachelors by the same age (Halls MD; Pew Hispanic Center). As for the second stat, it doesn't reflect ability or energy as much as a ubiquitous cultural bias.
Regardless, the article did prompt me to think about how leveling out at 5'2" put me at a medical disadvantage. Here are some ways shorties get the short end of the stick:
(1) We should eat less, but are taught the standards of the norm
A woman my age and height needs about 100 calories a day less than someone three inches taller. But we're taught standard portion sizes as children regardless of how tall we are. Example: a mother of two teenage sons, one 6'0" and the other 5'5", would give both the same amount of pasta at dinner to avoid "favoritism," inadvertently training the second one to eat more than he needs. Unless we short people eat everything in miniature, we need to eat fewer things, which is difficult when the role models around you have fuller plates.
(2) Sports are reserved for tall people
Basketball and volleyball are out. Little legs make it hard to run as fast as the graceful 5'6" gazelles, which put the status of track star out of reach. Short arms necessitate extra exertion on the tennis court, and stunted bodies give us more distance to cover in the pool. Only off-beat niches are left: figure skating, gymnastics, golf.... Even gym equipment is discriminatory. I've never been able to stretch out my arms enough to handle the "butterfly" pads on weight lifting machines.
(3) We're not the standard of beauty
We can aim for "cute," but heads don't turn for petites. And let's face it: when you're used to being the It Girl, you try harder to stay that way. I don't see fellow Asians or little Latinas scuttling around the track; I see normal heighters in sports bras and clingy short-shorts that show off their mile-long legs. We figure if we're going to slip by unnoticed anyway, we might as well enjoy our fudge brownies.
I'm not being entirely serious with the examples, but it is true that short people have to be especially vigilant when it comes to portion sizes and exercise. A five pound gain on a tall woman is barely noticeable, but it makes a world of difference to the health of my miniaturized body. And with regards to Engber's article, I've always wondered--if I hadn't crash dieted through my formative years, could I have grown an inch taller?