Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Message to the Daily Telegraph: in the UK - as in the US - a person's height is measured in feet and inches

Today's Daily Telegraph coverage of an Imperial College London study of  average heights around the world was bizarre (online version available here). It informs us that British men are now the 31st tallest in the world, up from 36th a century ago.  It tells us that the increase is 4.3", but it omits to tell us that the average height for men is now  5ft 9.8in tall, which is the figure most male readers will have been searching for: female readers will have been similarly disappointed not to find their average height mentioned (5ft 4.7in). Throughout the article, every single measurement is given in metric first, with inches in brackets afterwards. Presumably this is is because the ICL study uses metric. Well, I don't care - the vast majority of people in the UK think of height in feet and inches, not metres, centimetres and millimetres. If I told you that my height is 1.96m and my wife's is 1.63m, you wouldn't have a clue (neither would I). The pro-EU BBC  covered the story using only feet and inches, while the anti-EU Telegraph favoured metric measurements - which makes no sense.

While we're on the subject, couldn't we use Brexit as an excuse to return to measuring absolutely everything in feet and inches, finally turning the nation's back on the four decades of constant cognitive dissonance bequeathed to us by that abysmal arse, Ted Heath? What more tangible proof could we have that things have actually changed, and that we're allowed to do things the way that suits us once more? I suspect the whole country would be a happier, friendlier, less querulous place.

I'd also love to go back to using Farenheit as the main measure of temperature, as I - like millions of others - have never been able to get used to Centigrade. The weather presenters can tell me it's going to reach 25°C tomorrow, and it means little more to me than that it's going to be warm rather than cold: tell me it's going to climb to 77°F and I know exactly where I am. I guess the majority of people in Britain (everyone under 40? 50?) no longer have a clue what temperatures in Farenheit mean - but most young people pay no attention whatsoever to predicted temperatures unless they're going on holiday, whereas us old folk are absolutely obsessed by the subject. I am a classic example of this phenomenon: I don;t get out much these days, but I can tell you exactly what the weather's going to be like for the next three or four days (or, at least, what the Met Office thinks it's going to be like), because I have my BBC weather site settings permanently switched to Farenheit, and check it at least twice a day. Why do I do this? I haven't a clue. It's just something I started doing at about the age of 55.

Back to the issue of height. ICL's Professor Majid Ezzati strikes a rather gloating note when discussing America's shrinkage over the past century. In 1914, American men were the third tallest in the world, while women were fourth. Now, the men have dropped 34 places to 37th, while women have suffered an even steeper decline, to 42nd. The professor thinks it could be the result of a worsening diet:
“There was a time when America was the land of plenty,” he said.
“When Europe didn’t have enough food, America did, but increasingly nutrition has become worse there. It’s not just about having enough calories, it’s about having high-quality calories. Growth has stopped in much of the West,” he added.
“Together with poor performance of these countries in terms of obesity, this emphasises the need for more effective policies towards healthy nutrition throughout life.”
Well, perhaps. But isn't it more likely to be the result of America's vastly increased Hispanic population, as well as increases in the number immigrants from the Indian subcontinent and South-East Asia? It seems that America reached a natural plateau in 1996 - a plateau which most European countries appear to have reached more recently. As the study doesn't examine why Americans have stopped growing, it seems a bit odd to attack their eating habits on the basis of pure prejudice. Why not, you know, do some scientific research rather than just shooting off at the mouth? That's what
prejudiced ignoramuses like me are for.

The top ten countries for male height are as follows: Holland, Belgium, Estonia, Latvia, Denmark, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia, Iceland and the Czech Republic... wait a minute - Belgium? That's interesting. Is that because of the Flemish (i.e. Dutch) half of the pseudo-country? Or thanks to the huge number of immigrants and descendants of immigrants? Intriguing.

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