Americans have gotten a little taller but a lot heavier in the past 40 years, federal researchers reported yesterday.
A new analysis of data collected by ongoing long-term national surveys found the average adult was about an inch taller in 2002 than in 1960 and weighed nearly 25 pounds more.
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The findings reinforce the well-documented increase in the number of Americans who are overweight by estimating for the first time the average number of pounds that have been gained.
"This is the first time we've put average weight and heights together in one place in this way," said Cynthia L. Ogden, an epidemiologist at the National Center for Health Statistics, which produced the report.
The average height of men ages 20 to 74 increased from just over 5-foot-8 in 1960 to 5-foot-9 1/2 in 2002, while the average height of women in that age range rose from just over 5-foot-3 to about 5-foot-4, the researchers found.
The average weight for men in that age group increased more dramatically than height -- from 166.3 pounds to 191 pounds -- while the average weight for women jumped from 140.2 pounds to 164.3 pounds, the researchers reported.
The biggest weight increase occurred in older men, with those ages 40 to 49 gaining nearly 27 pounds, those 50 to 59 gaining nearly 28 pounds, and those 60 to 74 gaining 33 pounds, on average. For women, the biggest average weight gain -- 29 pounds -- occurred among those ages 20 to 29. Women ages 40 to 49 gained about 25.5 pounds, while those 60 to 74 gained about 17.5 pounds.
The trend affected children as well. A 10-year-old boy weighed 77.4 pounds on average in 1963 but 88 pounds in 2002. The average 10-year-old girl in 1963 weighed 77.4 pounds, but nearly 88 pounds in 2002.
Their height also increased, with the average 10-year-old boy being 55.2 inches tall in 1963. By 2002, the average 10-year-old boy's height had increased to 55.7 inches.
Overall, the increases in height were considered modest, with most of it appearing to have occurred in the 1960s, Ogden said.
The height of most Americans appears to have largely leveled off, failing to keep pace with the increase in height in many parts of Europe, especially Scandinavian countries, said Richard Steckel of Ohio State University.
"Northern Europeans are now two inches taller than Americans," Steckel said. "Seventy-five years ago that wasn't the case. We're falling behind."
A variety of factors may be to blame, including better medical care and better overall nutrition in other parts of the world, Steckel said.
The increase in weight problems, for example, may be causing many U.S. children to mature earlier, causing their growth spurts to occur when they are younger. But their eventual height may not be increasing as much as it should because they tend to eat greater quantities of junk food, he said.
"I wonder if all these calories children are eating are not crowding out micronutrients," Steckel said. "Are we eating junk food instead of fruits and vegetables? Is our diet imbalanced?"