Europeans are now taller than Americans for the first time in history, thanks to better national healthcare systems in most European countries, according to new findings.
Ever since colonial days, corn-fed Americans have been taller and more robust than their cousins back in the Old Country owing to the boundless nutritious bounty of the New World.
While cholera and rickets and other woes of over-population stunted the growth of Europeans, Americans grew taller, stronger and healthier.
But no more. Since the end of World War II, decades of peace and prosperity have spawned generations of healthy Europeans, while Americans have not grown appreciably for half a century.
Now the average American is between two and six centimetres shorter than the average European. And a particular growth spurt has been noted in Eastern Europe since the fall of communism, which resulted in more nutritious diets for millions behind the former Iron Curtain.
A German study now indicates that nutrition is not the only difference. European health care systems are also part of the growth equation, according to a study published in Social Science Quarterly by researchers from the University of Munich.
Europeans are thriving because their healthcare systems have overtaken those in America, according to the statistical analysis of demographic and health data collected between 1959 and 2002 on both continents.
"We surmise that the health systems and high degree of social welfare in Europe provide better conditions for growth than the American health system, despite the fact that the (European) system costs twice as much," says study co-author John Komlos from the University of Munich. "There are also indications that American diets are deficient in several areas."
From colonial times until roughly the 1970s, Americans were the tallest people in the world. But then their growth stagnated while Europeans experienced a post-war growth spurt in the second half of the 20th century.
Now, the average Dutch male is six centimetres taller than the average American - "almost an exact reversal of the relationship in the middle of the 19th century", Komlos says.
The Netherlands, like most European countries, has a national health insurance system that ensures coverage for all residents, rich or poor.
In contrast, millions of Americans are unable to afford health insurance. The researchers say the impoverished American underclass is breeding a generation of sickly Americans.
Some 15 percent of the American population has no health insurance, meaning that a serious illness can put an entire family in debt. In contrast, in European countries with universal healthcare, even those children dependent on welfare have access to adequate healthcare, the researchers concluded.
The study was based on data gathered by the National Health Examination Survey and the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys.