Writing Center
Spring 2006 Edition

Can I Be a Tall Girl?

Saki Kawakita
Expository 1010 2nd Place

“Wow! Everyone is much taller than I am.” This was my first impression when I came to the USA. Well, I know I am not a tall person, but Americans’ height is completely different from my height; for example, I can’t get lady’s size cloths at the store, because I’m too short for that. There are some Japanese, Korean, and other Asian students at SUU; however, no Asian is taller than the average American students. Why is our height so different? What is the main source to determine the human height? Is it genetic, population, or nutrition? I feel like one of the seven dwarfs in Snow White when I stay with American friends.

I’m Short Because I’m Asian
Even when I lived in Japan, I was a pretty short girl. I was always in the front of the line in my pre-school, elementary school, and junior high school, because I was the shortest girl in my class. So I always dreamed that I could be 5 feet 10 inches in the future, so I could play basketball better. But sadly it never happened, thus I always took the offensive side when I was in basketball team in elementary school, because my coach needed tall girls for defense.
One day, I said to my grandfather, “I want to be a tall girl!” He said, “If you want to be a tall girl, eat well and sleep well.” I tried everything that I believed could make me taller. I especially focused on taking great nutrients, like variety of vegetables or unpolished foods because my grandfather was a nutrition professor and grandmother was a cooking teacher. They gave me good advice from their professional view.

Still, the result is that I am short. I am not as tall as I want to be. How sad is that!? So I thought tall people were eating better than me, but I was wrong.
In my freshman year, I lived in the Southern Utah University dorm with three other girls. They are all taller than me, so I decided to watch what kind of food they were eating. The first day, one of my roommates ate cereal for breakfast, no lunch, a lot of candy for snack time, and fast food for dinner. Another roommate ate only one meal, a big peanut butter and jam sandwich. Maybe she ate something more, but I don’t know. Another roommate ate ramen in the morning, pizza for lunch, snacks, and a frozen dinner. Those food styles were continued until the end of the year. There were few times that I saw my roommates cooking some meal. They usually went out to eat or made prepared meals, like canned or frozen foods. They didn’t eat well, but they are so much taller than me. It socked me so bad.  I wanted to cry, because I strongly believed that great, healthy foods make people taller. It was not true from my experiences. I doubt that high nutrients in foods are more effective for human growth and I guess genetics are the biggest factor to determine human height. What is more, when I ate those “good foods,” such as fast-food with my roommates, I gained body fat! I didn’t grow taller like they did.

Foods Make a Huge Difference
However, according to the Wikipedia dictionary, “Height is determined by the complex interactive combination of genetics and environment” (“Human Height” par. 4). Moreover, it said, “Nutrition is the most important factor in determining height” (“Human Height” par. 1). In a surprising fact, it said, “Asian populations were once thought to be inherently shorter, but with the increases in height even East Asian nations such as Japan and South Korea as diet changes it now seems that humans as a species probably possess a roughly similar genetic height potential” (“Human Height” par. 7). Thus, great nutrition is important for human growth.

Therefore, different kinds of foods make human heights vary. The Wednesday Report, called Suiyou tusin in Japan, discussed the difference between Japanese and American diets. Americans eat meat, milk, and cheese three times more than Japanese. Americans’ daily intake of sugar and oil calories is 1.5 times more than Japanese intake. On the other hand, Japanese eat fish three times more than Americans (Sukimasa par. 1). This shows that Americans eat much more protein and dairy products than Japanese, except for fish. The Japanese diet relied on rice before World War II, because they couldn’t buy meat for economic reasons; they spent great amounts of money for the army (Sukimasa par. 4). But now, the Japanese diet is changing. Their diet becomes an Americanized way; however, the total intake of calories is ten percent more than before World War II (Sukimasa par. 8). The reason for this is that the Japanese people are still keeping their basic food style even though they adapted another country’s food culture (Sukimasa par. 10). So, because of America, Japanese culture has added protein to their daily diets. This resulted in the average Japanese height becoming 10cm taller between 1953 and 1997 (Cynical Politics par.6).

Since this study, Japanese people have changed their diets for the better; however, Americans have negatively changed their diets. According to the graph in U.S food supply 2004, researched by the USDA, got specific evidences of nutrients. In 1970, American eats 640 kcal of meat a day, but now is 550 kcal (“U.S food supply”). Their intake calories of protein are decreasing; in contrast, intake calories of fats and oils are increasing from 590 kcal to 850 kcal now. Sugar and sweeteners are also increasing from 610 kcal to 740 kcal (“U.S food supply”). In addition, Percentage of total needs of Zinc is decreasing from 46.9 % to 37.8 % (“U.S food supply”). It is a very important nutrient to make human taller; it researched by a famous journal, called Nutrition. So recent American foods style had many fats and sugar, but it hasn’t enough essential nutrients for growth than before.

Considering these facts, did really American height change? Answer is “yes.” In April of 2004, Robin Mckie wrote an article for the news paper, The Observer, Mckie mentioned that poverty and poor diet mean the average US man is getting shorter, while Europeans keep growing taller. According to his article, “In Europe, there is-in most countries-good health service provision for most members of society and plenty of protein in most people’s diets” (Mckie par. 7). On the other hand, America has eight million people with no job, 40 million individuals with no health insurance, 35 million living below the poverty line, and a population that exists mainly on junk food (Mckie par. 8). The reason of decrease of US men’s height is that poor nutrients of food. Low income people can’t buy good food, and they rely on junk food which usually provides low nutrient value.

Consequently, Americans are getting shorter because of their poor diets. In research paper written by John Komlos and Marieluise Baur, who are professors at the University of Munich in Germany, discussed the reason of why Americans are getting shorter. They compared with American and European biological standard of living, Welfare State, social inequality, and health care system. They realized that Americans by 21st century are much more affluent but have fallen well behind West-Europeans in many aspects of biological well being, even as their body mass has risen beyond most European values (Komlos and Marieluise par. 14). They also said, “The life-expectancy of Americans has fallen behind West-European levels and is now about 28th in the world, 3.2 years behind Japan… (Komlos and Marieluise par. 4). So currently American food life makes not only American shorter but also it harms their body. Komlos and Marieluise concluded with “The richest are by no means the tallest or healthiest, or live longest” (par. 16).

This research proves us diet affects human height a lot, which made a result that Asians are getting taller and Americans are getting shorter (“Human Height” par. 7). On the other hand, there are other possible sources to make humans smaller. Wikipedia mentioned, “Height is determined by the complex interactive combination of genetics and environment” (“Human Height” par. 4). Thus it’s not clear to say that nutrition is the only factor in human height.

Everyone Can Be Taller
I was dreaming to be a tall girl. I did everything that I could do to be a tall girl, but my height never changed. So I thought this is meaningless that my grandparents always said, “Eat well if you want to be tall.” However, current research proved everyone can be taller by rich diet. It now seems that there is no difference to determining human height in race relation, but I didn’t grow taller. Therefore, it’s a time to reconsider my food style with recent researches.

There are a lot of kinds of people who are eating different foods in this world. In Japan, people have eating habit called Itisiru-sansai, a food style that means one soup, rice, main dish (fish or meat), and side dish. On the whole, their diet is more likely semi-vegetarian. Japanese eat fishes more than meat, and they do a little high-carbohydrate diet, because of the high percentage of caloric intake of rice. After World War II, Japanese started to eat bread more than before from the effect of America, but still many Japanese live on a diet chiefly of rice (Sukimasa par. 3). Especially around 1945, Japanese ate rice three times more than today; the reason for this is that they couldn’t get enough protein like meat and dairy products, thus, they ate much rice instead of meat or fish. They were lack of protein sources. That’s why it was thought that Japanese are small and besides, some people said “Asian populations are inherently shorter” (“Human Height” par. 7). However Asian’s average height is getting taller now. The possible reasons are;

  1. Increase of the intake of protein because of development of import and export (Sukimasa par. 3).
  2. Development of economy (“Human Height” par. 3)
  3. Variety of food style (Sukimasa Par. 10)

After World War II, Japan made a well known goal to catch up to America and get ahead of America. Finally, Japanese economy has taken a sudden change. So all of the nation’s average of income increased; and then, they could buy enough foods until they felt full. The biggest change of Japanese diet is the consumption of meats, which provide essential nutrients for human growth, protein and amino acid (Sukimasa par. 6). It’s not too much to say that good sources of protein with Japanese semi-vegetarian food styles promote to make Japanese taller.

Japanese diets have positively changed. What’s about my food style? My family hates junk food and eating out, so my mother always supported my family with home made delicious foods. However, I was different from my family, because I don’t like rice very much; therefore, I ate side dishes more than the staple food like bread, rice and pasta. When I was in elementary and junior high school, I was provided with school meals for lunch every school day. Those meals were nutritionally balanced meals, because professional dietitians made all of the menus for kids. However I gave two thirds of my rice or bread to my friends all the time; consequently, my nutritive balance was not very good. Rice makes energy for the brain, but my intake calories of rice was not enough to control my body. Therefore my brain used protein for energy to control my body instead of carbohydrates. This can be one of the causes for why I didn’t grow up well.

Another cause I can consider is that the busyness and poor diet during my high school time. I went to the Drama high school in Japan, so I got up at five in the morning to go to practices, take classes, after school practices, and came home around eleven in the evening. Those days were really busy and I couldn’t even get enough time to sleep. I also started to worry about my appearance; I tried a lot of kinds of diets to lose my weight. So I actually didn’t eat well, because I didn’t have the time to eat a proper lunch and dinner; I sometimes ate just yogurt and one fruit for my meal. According to the Wikipedia dictionary, it’s important to take great sources of protein and sleep in a growth period, but I didn’t do that (“Human Height” par. 8). Finally, my height became 3cm shorter than before my high school years.

Setting my height aside, it’s clear that the average height of Japanese is increasing now because of their diet changes; on the other side, Sukimasa mentioned that the Japanese growth is stopping in the 1990s (Par. 10). There are some possible factors; the increasing of stresses, shortage of sleep, and changing diet from Eastern to Western which has high fat and sweetness. And the biggest factor may be the development of Internet and mechanical skills (Sukimasa par. 9). Many children spend too much time for Internet just for fun; they don’t go outside for playing, they stay up late at night, and they usually don’t eat well either. That may make them short (Sukimasa par. 9).

Surprising research shows us that Americans are getting shorter because of their poor nutritive foods (Mckie par. 8). It's hard to confirm whether this is true or not by sense of sight, but it's clear that American's height is changing. At least, there is no evidence which shows Americans are still growing. Now, Americans are the fattest in the world, not the tallest. And over fat or overweight causes a lifestyle-related illness which is the most serious factor of death in this society (Komlos and Marieluise par. 3).  It is no exaggeration to say that it takes an interest in health or a diet boom for American.

It should scarcely need saying, but this fact may affect Japanese height too; the reason for this is that Japanese always follow America as a model. If Japanese will keep following them, Japanese diet will be very fatty, salty and sweet foods and they will be short again. Japanese really needs to notice this fact, because foods affect humans a lot! It can make a huge difference.

However, there is another factor that Americans are getting shorter;

  1. It’s really hard to make precise results, because America is a huge country (Komlos and Marieluise par. 4).
  2. There are amount of people in United States, called the melting pot of ethnic groups. For example, as more Mexicans and Chinese enter the US, these individuals may lower the average height (McKie par. 20).
  3. The lack of health support (Komlos and Marieluise par. 15)
  4. There is a big gap between rich people and poor people (McKie par. 8).

To consider those factors, it's unclear that only poor diet style harms Americans height; however, throughout all researches, it is right to say that nutrients are very important to determining the human height.

Accordingly, the possible reasons for my lack of growth are because of the lack of protein intake and shortage of sleep during the growth period. The reason that I am short is not because I am an Asian, but my diet and life style in adolescence. From now on, there is no difference to determining human height in race relations. The most important things in becoming a tall person are how will eat and what will eat. Food will determine the human height. As the research said that Human height is changing the same as change of food style; both are related to each other. That’s why Asians are getting taller; in contrast, Americans are getting shorter. Research proved diet changes make a difference. And the best way to be tall is just as my grandparents taught me; “Eat well and sleep well”.

Works Cited:

McKie, Robin. “Americans Shrinking as Junk Food Takes its Toll: Poverty and Poor Diet Mean the Average US Man is Getting Smaller, While Europeans Keep Growing Taller.” The Observer.4 April 2004:13

”U.S. Food Supply.” 21 December 2004. USDA/Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. 15 November 2005 <http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usdahome>.

“Human Height.” Wikipedia the Free Encyclopedia. 9 November 2005. 15 November 2005 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_height>.

Harano, Sukimasa. “Cynical Politics.” Suiyo Tusin 9 May 2004. 15 November 2005

Komlos, John and Marieluise Baur. ‘”From the Tallest in the World to (One of) the Fattest / The Enigmatic Fate of the Size of the American Population in the Twentieth Century.” University of Munich. 15 November 2005