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Height, Obesity Of Black Women Declining

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

A yet-to-be-released study has found shorter heights among black women born around 1980 compared with those born in the mid-1960s, a disparity that might be linked to obesity among black women, the Washington Post reports. The study -- conducted by John Komlos, a professor at the University of Munich -- looks at the relationship between standards of living and human health and body size.

Komlos analyzed data recently released by CDC's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and found that in the U.S., black women born around 1980 are on average a little shorter than 5-feet-4 inches today, while black women born in the mid-1960s are on average a little more than one-half an inch taller. By comparison, white women born around 1980 are more than three-fourths an inch taller than black women of the same age, according to the Post.

According to the Post, the finding of shorter heights among younger black women is "a surprising development, since Americans in general have gotten taller from one generation to the next." Komlos said that it "is more or less unprecedented in modern times, except in dire circumstances" for any group in the developed world to become shorter over time.

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Komlos noted that there is a relationship between the decline in height and obesity, which disproportionately affects black women. According to a 2007 National Center for Health Statistics report, 23.8% of black girls ages 12 to 19 are overweight, compared with 14.6% of white girls the same age. The report also found that 51.6% of black women ages 20 to 74 are considered obese, compared with 31.5% of white women. Komlos said obesity can affect a young person's growth potential.

According to Alan Rogol, a professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of Virginia and Indianapolis, Ind.-based Riley Hospital for Children, obesity causes an acceleration of the onset of puberty in young people, and in women, "the female hormone estrogen is what leads to closure of the ends of long bones, where you grow from. If that is done more quickly on average, you are at risk for being ... smaller as an adult."

The study notes that while genetics have a significant role in determining an individual's ultimate height, nutrition, and lifestyle and access to health care also contribute. The study also found that growth differences in black women were particularly evident among those at the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum, where diets tend to be less healthy and access to care is lower (Minnema, Washington Post, 1/6).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Weekly Health Disparities Report, search the archives, and sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Weekly Health Disparities Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. © 2007 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.