Secular trend and regional differences in the stature of Italians, 1854–1980

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Secular trend and regional differences in the stature of Italians, 1854–1980
  Secular trend and regional differences in thestature of Italians, 1854–1980 Emilia Arcaleni* ,1  Istituto Nazionale di Statistica (ISTAT), Direzione Centrale per le Indagini suCondizioni e Qualita` della Vita, via Adolfo Rava` 150, I-00142 Rome, Italy Received 16 June 2005; accepted 16 June 2005 Abstract We present 127 years of data on the physical stature of military conscripts born in Italy during1854–1980,aswellasananalysisofregionalvariationsinheight(forbirthcohortsbornduring1927–1980). The height of young men has increased in all regions of Italy. The secular trend and theregional changes in stature are correlated with economic growth and a general improvement of livingconditions. This is suggested by the relationship between height and various socio-economicindicators. A comparison of the 1927 birth cohort with the 1980 birth cohort shows that the meanheights for populations in Italy’s southern areas, which were shorter than the national average in1927, underwent the largest increases. In recent years, mean height has been gradually approachingan upper bound for all regions in Italy, with the exception of some central and southern regions. Amultiple regression analysis evaluates the impact of living conditions on the convergence of regionalheights. # 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved. Keywords:  Height; Anthropometrics; Secular trend; Biological standard of living; Italy; Physical stature 1. Introduction Secular changes in stature have been well documented in populations around the globe(Eveleth and Tanner, 1990). In Italy, anthropometric studies were conducted for the first and Human Biology 4 (2006) 24–38* Tel.: +39 06 46734598; fax: +39 06 46734596. E-mail address: 1 ISTAT is not responsible for the opinions herein expressed, which must be attributed to the author only.1570-677X/$ – see front matter # 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.doi:10.1016/j.ehb.2005.06.003  time in the 1870s, more than 40 years after Belgian and French investigators performedtheir pioneering studies (Villerme´, 1829; Que´telet, 1832). Initially, Italian studies of anthropometrictraitswerelocalinnature;thesecularheighttrendhadnotbeenrecognised.Instead, attention was focused on the various factors that could influence height, such asclimate, altitude, nutrition and ethnic srcin (Lombroso, 1877; Perozzo, 1878; Pagliani,1879;Riccardi,1887;Livi,1896a,b,1898,1905).TheincreasingheightofItalianswasfirstrecognised at the beginning of the 20th century (De Rossi, 1903) and was attributed toimprovements in the country’s economic and health conditions.Costanzo (1948) was the first to collect data on stature of Italian conscripts, beginningwith the 1854 birth cohort until the 1920 birth cohort, on the basis of srcinal militaryarchives.These datawere publishedby the IstitutoNazionale diStatistica(ISTAT,1958) inthe  Sommario di Statistiche Storiche , the official collection of Italian historical statistics,and have been updated in subsequent editions. Since 1949 (the 1927 birth cohort), in fact,the Ministry of Defence has been providing ISTAT with semi-aggregated data every yearand the mean stature is calculated and published in ISTAT’s (1949–2003)  AnnuarioStatistico Italiano .Since the 1980s, analysis of the stature of Italians has focused on conscription data,often in collaboration with the Ministry of Defence (Distaso et al., 1984; Terrenato andUlizzi, 1983; Golini et al., 1985; Ulizzi and Terrenato, 1985). More recently, the emphasisis on the additional information available in the military records of conscripts, such asprofession, education, region of birth, family name and blood group (Corsini, 2004). 2. Data quality National compulsory recruitment of young men for military service was established in1863 (birth cohort 1842) but abolished in 2005, having been replaced by a voluntaryenrolment program. Consequently, medical examination of all young men is no longerperformed. Although the 1985 birth cohort was the last to experience compulsoryrecruitment, data for the 1980 birth cohort were the last to have been released by theMinistry ofDefence. Therefore, the present articleanalyses data formale Italian conscriptsborn during 1854–1980. Recruitment was compulsory for these cohorts, and medicalexaminations were performed on all young men of conscription age to check their physicalfitness for military service. Several other data were also recorded during the examination,includinghealthstatusandanthropometricandsocio-economiccharacteristics.ISTATdataon stature used in this study pertain to all of the conscripts whose height was measured,even if they did not meet the minimum height required for military service.Although recruitment was compulsory, for several reasons, the height of many youngmenwasnotmeasured.Inthesecondhalfofthe19thcentury,informationaboutheightwaslacking for up to 30–35% of young men nationwide and for up to 60% in particulardistricts, notably areas in southern Italy (Ilari, 1989–1990). In the first period of the Italianconscription history, in fact, there was a large percentage of draft dodging in the Italianarmy, mainly because of the high rate of emigration to other countries among young menfrom southern Italy (for example, the draft-dodging rate for the 1842 birth cohort, the firstcohort that underwent compulsory recruitment, was 11.5% nationally but 57% in Naples, E. Arcaleni/Economics and Human Biology 4 (2006) 24–38  25  45% in Catania and 44% in Palermo). Because the mean height of young men from Italy’ssouthern regions was lower than the national average, there was probably a systematicoverestimation of the mean national height, especially for birth cohorts drafted during thefirst decades of Italian conscription. During the 20th century, the national rate of draft-dodging decreased from 8% for the 1906 birth cohort to 4 and 0.8% for the 1923 and 1972birth cohorts, respectively (Ilari, 1989–1990).Although medical examination was most often performed when the young men reachedthe age of 19–20 years, it was occasionally performed at a younger age (down to 17 years)oranolderage(upto22years),dependingonthe particular needsofthemilitary.However,fromthe1960birthcohortonward,allmedicalexaminationswereperformedwhenrecruitswere 18 years of age. For that reasons ISTATalso calculated a standardized height, centredat 20 years of age, by adding growth increments (positive or negative) to the actual heightsmeasured at younger/older than 20 years ages 2 (Costanzo, 1948) (Fig. 1). Adoption of the standardized estimates has an appreciable effect on data for the 1896–1900 birth cohorts,who were drafted earlier (even as young as 17 years of age) because of World War I,correcting for an apparent height decrease of more than 2 cm. The correction for the rest of the period under study is generally moderate. Beginning with the 1930 birth cohort, theactual and standardized estimates essentially coincide, and ISTAT ceased to correct forage effects, beginning with the 1954 birth cohort. Therefore, we use standardized E. Arcaleni/Economics and Human Biology 4 (2006) 24–38 26Fig.1. Staturemeasuredduringmedicalcheck-up(blackdottedline)andstaturestandardizedattheageof20(redthicker line) for the 1854–1980 birth cohorts; Italian per capita Gross Domestic Product for years 1850–1980[ source:  ISTAT and OECD (2003)]. 2 Because of the lack of Italian growth rates, Costanzo used rates calculated for Danish males conscripts byMackeprang (1907–1911). Correcting for age-based differences reduces the ‘perspective error’ (Schreider, 1968) typical of military anthropometric data due to two factors: the young age of the conscripts who were still growingat the time theywere measured and the seculargrowth anticipation trend (that means that young men reach earliertheir final adult height) (Tanner, 1968). This allows us to infer that the increase in Italian observed height data is areal gain of definitive stature (except for the residual growth coming after 20 years of age) and that anticipation of growth is a modest component of the secular height trend (as supposed by Damon, 1965).  (i.e., age-corrected) data for the 1854–1953 birth cohorts and observed (i.e., uncorrected)data for the 1954–1980 birth cohorts 3 .Data for only few birth cohorts are incomplete, because of events (i.e., loss of documents and archives) associated with World War II (birth cohorts 1921–1926) and datadelivery irregularities from the Ministry of Defence to ISTAT (birth cohorts 1966, 1968,1970 and 1971). The Ministry of Defence has only recently understood the importance of statistical accuracy during data collection. This explains why past military anthropometricdata are affected by problems, such as inaccuracy and heterogeneity. Many heightmeasurements (in centimetres) ended in 0 or 5, because of rounding, and the problem stillpersist in the most recent data to minor extent 4 . In first decades of Italian recruitment,accurate measurement of height was recommended exclusively for recruits whose staturewasclosetotheminimumthresholdforenlistment 5 ,becausemanyconscriptsusedtricksinorder to be declared unfit (Grippa, 1863).Before the 1927 birth cohort, there were no data for Navy conscripts, although suchindividualsaccountedfor2–3%ofallconscripts.Nevertheless,thereisnoreasontobelievethat height data before this period would be significantly different if they included data forNavy conscripts.Regional data on mean stature are available beginning with the 1927 birth cohort. Theregional averages are comprised of data obtained during medical examination and are notstandardized to adjust for age-based differences. Fortunately, as mentioned above, actualand standardized data have been approximately coincident from the 1930 birth cohortonward, at least at the national level.Some minor interventions have been necessary to correct trivial summarization errors,corrigenda and editing errors present in the official ISTAT data. 3. Trend analysis 3.1. Trend at the national level Italian military data demonstrate that secular height increased by 12.19 cm between the1854 and 1980 birth cohorts of conscripts. Overall, stature increased from 162.39 to174.58 cm, indicating an averagegrowth of0.97 cm perdecade (Fig. 1). The nationaltrendfollowed an S-shaped pattern: after a longinitial period inwhich the mean height increasedslowly, a phase of accelerated increases started with the generations born in the 1940s,followed by a change in the concavity of the stature curve for the cohorts born in the early1950s, and a final phase of diminishing rates of increase. Nevertheless, the Italian trend isnot completely regular; periods of steady increase are followed by sudden decreases and E. Arcaleni/Economics and Human Biology 4 (2006) 24–38  27 3 From the 1954 birth cohort on, only observed stature is available (varying likely around 18–20) but from the1960 birth cohort on, the examinations is fixed at the age of 18. An eventual dis-homogeneity in 1954 or in 1960seems to be excluded, looking at the graph and considering that the correction due to the standardization reducesprogressively, so that in 1953 is imperceptible. 4 The rounding was first analysed by Livi (1883), who concluded that it is not a problem for the calculation of the mean height, and does not affect sensibly the proportions of shorter and taller than average heights. 5 The height threshold for enlistment gradually shifted from 150 to 156 cm (Arcaleni, 1998).  subsequent recoveries. For example, the slight decrease in mean stature between birthcohorts 1880 and 1895 could be ascribed to a slowdown in Italian economic growth(Federico, 2003), and the decrease of height of the birth cohort born in 1945, anexceptionally bad year, was brought about by the war. In fact, a dramatic worsening of living standards took place during World War II, when per capita intake of protein, fats,carbohydrates and calories declined. Moreover, the evidence of a relationship betweenfluctuations in secular trend of heights and political-economic cycles is pointed out inrecent studies (Martı´nez Carrio´n, 2002; A’Hearn, 2003).Despite worsened economic and health conditions during World War II, cohorts of young men recruited for military service during the war (birth cohorts 1919–1925) andyoung men born immediately before and during the war (birth cohorts 1930–1945) showincreasing mean statures. 6 Thus, war-related deprivation seems not to have adverselyaffected the height. On the contrary, throughout this period, the highest rates of growthwere recorded for the generations born in the 1940s and 1950s (Fig. 2). In Italy, severedeprivations caused by World War II, such as malnutrition and disease, were immediatelyfollowed by a long cycle of economic growth, during which children were nearly able toreach their physical potential for growth. This evidence corroborates the auxologicaltheory about the recovery capacity of children after periods of severe deprivation. Theachievement of genetically based growth potential depends on the rapid restoration of favourable nutritional conditions after a period of malnutrition and deprivation, as well ason the duration of the crisis (Tanner, 1989).Between the second half of the 19th century and the present, the distribution curve fordata on the stature has undergone changes in shape and position: the distribution of statureshifted to the right and, after a long period of hyper-kurtosis with negative skewness (Gini,1949), the height distribution curve progressively became Gaussian (Ulizzi and Terrenato, E. Arcaleni/Economics and Human Biology 4 (2006) 24–38 28Fig.2. Growth ratesofaverage statureofItalian conscripts(%yearlyincrease):1854–1980birthcohorts[ source: ISTAT]. 6 The statures measured during medical examination of recruits from the 1919–1925 birth cohorts suggest aslight decrease. However, these young men were recruited at a younger age, and standardization of their heightsconfirms positive rates.
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