Back before World War II, the actors Americans held in the highest regard were men like Gary Cooper (6-foot-3), Jimmy Stewart (6-foot-3), Gregory Peck (6-foot-4) and John Wayne (6-foot-6), giants among men both figuratively and literally.
They embodied the ideals of America they were honest, humble, brave and patriotic. And they towered over the short, swarthy beady-eyed bad guys who dared challenge them, just as America did compared to the evil Nazis, Italians and Japanese and later the Soviets. No wonder we kicked their butts.
It's not like that any more. Today, the actors we idolize are Lilliputians like Tom Cruise (5-foot-7), Mel Gibson (5-foot-9), Sylvester Stallone (5-foot-9), Matt Damon (5-foot-10), etc.
While they are all fine thespians, I doubt any of them would be able to intimidate a Sunni insurgent, let alone a Nazi.
There's a good explanation, however, for why our heroes are shorter they merely reflect the general population. According to a new study, white and black Americans have been shrinking dramatically relative to their European counterparts since the end of World War II.
It's a big turnaround because we have always been giants, like the aforementioned actors. America had the tallest men in the world as far as data goes back, at least to the mid 19th century. During World War I, our doughboys towered over the Europeans they were liberating. Sometime after the Second World War, however, something changed.
According to researchers Benjamin Lauderdale at Princeton University and John Komlos at the University of Munich, with an average height of 5-foot-10, American men are now significantly shorter than men from countries like Denmark (6-footers) or the Netherlands (6-foot-1). In fact, Americans men and women are now shorter, on average, than the citizens of every single country in Western and Northern Europe. The data focused on white and black Americans only and not the presumably shorter immigrant population from Latin America.
The researchers lay the blame for our stunted growth not on smoking, but on our healthcare system and social safety net. The big determiner of height is good nutrition. More and more Americans rely on fast food rather than food cooked at home. It's less nutritious and could have long-term impact on bone development. More American children 18 million, or one in seven live in poverty than in any European country and are likely not getting adequate nutrition.
Also, according to the researchers, public-sector healthcare, like that practiced in Europe, puts greater emphasis on prevention, while our for-profit insurance-based system creates incentives to treat illness rather than prevent it.
The United States spends twice as much on healthcare per capita as European countries, but the health care we are receiving in return is not as good.
That Americans are not the tallest people in the world is a national scandal and it represents the best possible argument for massive reform of our healthcare system. Not only that, but our shrinking stature also threatens our national security. Nobody's afraid of short people, no matter how many planes or bombs they have. How can we expect a crazed dictator to give up his nukes if we can't at least look him in the eye?
The study didn't include any height data on Middle Easterners. Hopefully, we still have an edge there, but you can bet they're not eating McNuggets and fries for their lunch.