Saturday, December 5, 2009

They Grow Them Big Today

Last night my old high school football team won the championship of their division for the 16th time. Of course, I feel very good about this, but team statistics raised a question for me: Why are these guys so big?
When I went to high school many years ago, we had one or two people in our class who were six feet tall. Only a few students, who were considered to be “fat,” weighed 200 pounds.
Compare this with the current football team’s statistics. There are several boys on the team who are 6’4” or 6’5” tall. Almost all the players are close to 6’. As to weight, the five linemen from tackle to tackle average 270 pounds. 270 pounds! Two of them, 6’4” tall, tip the scales at 310 pounds. And they do not look fat. Many college teams would love to field a line that size. Why the difference?

According to my online investigation, there are three factors:

1.)                          Demographics. The boys live in an area where the population density is low compared to the resources: food, sanitation, clean air, etc. Studies indicate that as the population density of Europe increased or decreased in relation to resources, humans grew shorter or taller in an inverse relationship. The modern European, in fact the average westerner, is a few inches taller than his ancestors were a few generations ago. The same logic applies to his weight.
2.)                          Genetics. There is an inherited component in height. The genes which affect tallness are dominant, and characteristics based upon them spread rapidly through a population.
3.)                          Nutrition. Regardless of demographics and genetics, the allocation of resources that results in proper nutrition (including protein for muscle and calcium for bone density) has been a major factor in the growth spurt that humanity has enjoyed for the last century and a half. For the last half of the 20th century, Americans, with a bountiful supply of food and best health care, were the tallest people in the world, regardless of genetic heritage or how crowded the city they inhabited.
4.)                          Hormones. Some people suspect that hormones fed to livestock are  finding their way into humans through the food chain, and causing unusual growth. I could not find any scientific evidence to support this claim, but it seems logical.

The foregoing may help explain why people are getting taller, but it does not necessarily explain the increase in weight. Normally a 300 pound man would be considered overweight no matter what his height, but these boys do not look fat in any sense of the word. I know they spend many hours, both in and out of football season, lifting weights; although their body mass index is high, they tend to have a surplus of lean muscle. Lean muscle is considerably heavier than fat, and these boys are extremely strong. I am only guessing here, but I believe their devotion to weight training goes a long way toward explaining their weight.
Whatever the reason, I salute the winners. We did not have a football team when I was in school, but I am sure that if our biggest boys had played against them, the mercy rule would have been called five minutes into the game.

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