Whenever I’m doing a routine physical examination and check a patient’s height, I’m always bemused by how interested they are in the result.
No one seems to care what their blood pressure or pulse rate is, but everyone wants to know their exact height (which they must have a pretty good idea of anyway). And they are almost always disappointed. ‘Oh, I thought I was taller’ they’ll say. Often, they’ll ask me to double check. I’ve never had someone think they were shorter.
We all tend to exaggerate our height, convincing ourselves and others that we are taller than we really are. But why? At 6ft 1in, I’m relatively tall so it’s easy for me to be dismissive of height issues. However, as a society we value height.
Research shows that taller people tend to have higher self-esteem and self-confidence, while a study of Swedish men found that shorter individuals are more at risk of low mood and suicide.
Height appears to confer certain social benefits, too. Taller people are more likely to go into higher education, for example. It holds true even when short and tall people are matched for IQ, suggesting that there must be some unconscious bias at work when they are being selected.
Height appears to confer certain social benefits, too. Taller people are more likely to go into higher education, for example. It holds true even when short and tall people are matched for IQ, suggesting that there must be some unconscious bias at work when they are being selected
This is borne out by the fact that people who are over 6ft earn on average £100,000 more over a 30-year career compared to shorter people. American studies even show that taller presidents stand a better chance of being re-elected than shorter ones.
Doubtless these advantages stem in part from the pervasive tendency to associate height with power. It is embedded in our language: we look up to people we consider superior, for example, or look down on those who are inferior.
We therefore want to believe we are taller than we really are because this means we have more authority. In fact, this seems to be hard-wired into our brains. In one clever experiment using Virtual reality headsets, participants took two ‘virtual’ rides on a Tube train.
They experienced the first journey at their normal height. On the second journey — and without them knowing — the headset was programmed to make them feel shorter in relation to the carriage and other passengers.
When asked how they felt on each journey, the participants reported that they were aware of increased feelings of inferiority, weakness and incompetence on the second journey.
They also felt more intimidated by other passengers. This suggests that we have evolved to assume those who are taller are stronger and more of a threat.
There is a reason for my musings about the psychology of height this week. For once there is some good news for those of smaller stature. People who are over 6ft tall have more than double the chance of catching Covid-19, according to research published by data experts led by a team from Oxford University.
The researchers said the findings do not necessarily mean tall people are genetically more vulnerable to the infection. Instead, they believe the results indicate Covid-19 spreads through tiny particles called aerosols that linger in the air after being exhaled. (Tall people would be at no greater risk if the virus was mainly spread through sneezing or coughing, which produce larger droplets that fall to the ground quickly.)
Public health experts have so far ruled out that Covid-19 is airborne, but the World Health Organisation is reviewing ‘emerging evidence’ to the contrary. Whatever your height, though, you should always walk tall and don’t let the lack of inches determine how you feel about yourself.
But if you do wish you were taller then here’s a tip: always measure yourself in the morning — we are taller when we first wake up because, during the course of the day, gravity compresses our spine and we shrink!
If everyone who is overweight loses 5lb, it would save the NHS more than £100 million over the next five years, according to Health Secretary Matt Hancock. Imagine what we could do with that money?
If everyone who is overweight loses 5lb, it would save the NHS more than £100 million over the next five