British Asians getting (much) taller?

Whenever I’m with a group of Asians I’m usually among the taller bracket (5’9). In Britain I’m tall for an Asian, tallish for a Persian and decent in comparison for white height.

However at last night’s Bollywood dance (I was a bit rusty but I managed to keep up – we did the routine for Kar Gayi chull) virtually everyone was an undergrad (I imagined it would be the Desi postgrads).

What immediately struck me was that I was shorter than a fair few of them. I’m imagining that this generation of British Asians (born in the 90’s) are far more Westernised in their diet and upbringing, than their parents and grandparents.

I imagine many of these British Asians are  now second or third generation. Incidentally what I find so remarkable is the cultural tenacity of British Asians even among the more prosperous communities. There is an “oil & water” effect among community relations in Britain but I guess that is a feature of our multi-cultural multi-national state model. The only coloured “English” community are the Afro-Caribbean’s but Britishness is the preferred identity for all PoCs in this country (it’s different in Scotland though thanks to their civic nationalism).

Another rather funny quirk in Cambridge is the split between the undergrad and postgrad Indian community. The undergrad Indians are ultra high achieving British Asians (from the usual communities Punjabs & Gujjus) who eventually drift into the City of London thanks to parental pressure.

The postgrads tend to be Indians from India who are liberal (liberally socially but not politically), esoteric and in some ways so much more Westernised.

The Pakistani community does not evidence the same divide since there is a cohort in the undergraduate section that stems directly from Pakistan. They are mainly from Karachi Grammar School, which is no longer as elite as I thought it was since a third of it is now religious.

Among the Pakistani “social” elite being religious was almost a bar to entry as was being a teetotaller. It’s interest though I detest alcohol (except in cuisine or medicinally) for the longest time in the 90’s and 00’s I was not comfortable with Pakistanis who did not drink. They always reminded me of the super-strict Urdu-speaking Punjabis of Islamabad that I grew up with it rather than the English-speaking decadent Muhajirs of Karachi that I preferred.

Islamabad is intensely bourgeois, conservative and nationalistic. Karachi though is decadent, liberal and rather counter-cultural; I imagine Lahore is in between the two.

The entire Pakistani community (post and undergrad) is an order of magnitude more religious (and by extension more conservative) than the Indians.

Surprisingly there’s very little mixture (social or romantic) between the South Asians as far as I can see. I don’t know of another Indo-Pak couple in either the Town or Gown community.

16 thoughts on “British Asians getting (much) taller?”

    1. I don’t want to live on this planet anymore…India keeps throwing away its potential. 🙁

      1. The world needs to practise “one healthy grandchild.” People should aim to have one healthy and fertile grandchild as a cultural norm until the world sorts its shit out.

        Extra children should be seen as a badge of honour / achievement ..

    2. Could pollution be a factor?

      I think you must be right about the food habits, but what precisely do you think is worse now than it was a generation ago? From what I see, people load up on carbs and neglect proteins, but that’s what they did earlier too.

      1. Air and water quality are definitely much worse than before. I’d believe the general quality of produce has gone down as well notwithstanding the surfeit of ‘organic’ products that you find in Tier-1 cities. And meat consumption hasn’t increased at all.
        Could it be lack of childhood physical activity due to shrinking public spaces?
        (Again ignore the tiny stratum at the top that’s into fitness etc.)

        Government policies are also more focussed (rightly) on hunger than on malnutrition.

        I need to read more on why this could be happening. Would be glad if someone could point me to a study.

        I also think India might not follow the usual pattern in a lot of such cases because our society is highly stratified.
        You might have a period of stagnation where the vast majority ‘catches up’ to hunger standards and then slow growth again once that becomes the norm and nutrition becomes a more important issue.

  1. Regarding the difference between Cambridge undergrads and post-grads: it’s the same in US universities. The reason there is foreign undergrads don’t get full scholarships (at least that was the case a couple of decades ago) whereas foreign post-grads can get full tuition plus stipend if they are deemed qualified enough. So the latter is much more feasible for people living in India.

    1. whereas foreign post-grads can get full tuition plus stipend if they are deemed qualified enough.

      Yes, once you get into STE (not M) in a local State Uni (free) its an easy jump (GRE/TOFEL)) to a PhD in the US.

  2. This study tries to account for the lack of increase in Indians’ heights as due to exposure to open defecation:

    As much as I dislike the current government, hats off to its concerted effort to eliminate open defecation (even if they cook up some of the figures, it’s an impressive and very important effort). Even if you live some distance away from where open defecation takes place, there are all sorts of vectors that can transport microscopic amounts of fecal matter and infect you with the sorts of parasites that stunt your growth.

    It’s even been conjectured that the relative prevalence of open defecation among Hindus relative to Muslims (for whom taboos preclude it) accounts for the relatively lower child mortality rates among them despite being economically worse off on average:

    As an aside, one should also stress that in the middle of the 19’th century, the average height of Dutch men was around 165 cm, whereas it is around 185 today. Not sure how fair it is to compare of the average Indian persons nutrition, access to sanitation etc to that of working class Europeans around 1850, but it’s food for thought. If the study above is to be believed, once India is open defecation free, the average Indian height ought to shoot up in about a generation.

  3. Zack’s observation about average height of the average Indian coming to the UK is likely accurate. The reason is that the middle and upper class diets in India have improved considerably. The students that are coming to the UK (or the US for that matter) are primarily drawn from this strata of society.

    The same is true for many of the Indian professionals coming to the US on H1 and other work visas. The average height has significantly increased over the decades.

    One notices in a metro such as Mumbai when you get into an elevator and see the height difference between residents of the building and the servants/maids/delivery boys. This increase in height is also unfortunately being accompanied by increase in obesity.

    On a separate note, the average height of second generation Indians in the US is noticeably greater than their parents’.

    All observations above are anecdotal.

  4. I grew up mostly in the West. Somehow I ended up much shorter than my father, which I can tell you was very unusual growing up, compared to other Indian sons. However, my family was reasonably well off back home, urbanized and college educated for a few generations, so probably everyone from my parents generation on has hit their genetic potential in terms of height.

    When I got to college there was definitely not a difference in height between the U.S. based South Asians and the FOB’s (who were universally from upper middle class backgrounds). The Indian IT guys you can spot them from a mile away in public, because they always march in a tight formation of 4, 2 in front, 2 in back, wearing checkered shirts and jeans no matter which time of year, but again height wise are no different than Indian guys who grew up in the States.

    Overall height of Indians regardless of status is mediocre except for Punjabis, especially the Sikhs and Khatris, and Rajput people.

  5. Has anyone given thought to European/American heights increased after growth hormones were used for chicken and beef.

    Here in Sri Lanka growth hormones and factory chicken was post 1977. I would venture to say common only by 1990. Heights. obesity and early onset of puberty all increased after 1990.

    1. There is no evidence that growth hormone use in animals has had ANY effect on height (and no theoretical reason why it would.. the hormone is a protein, even if some tiny amount is present in the animal’s meat (not sure why it would be there..there is only a transient rise in serum levels after injection, then it gets metabolized and excreted) it will be digested by the human eating that meat. The tiniest trace can get into the blood stream after ingestion, but there is no way it can be enough to increase height.. if it could, parents of short kids would be rushing to buy hormone-fed beef for them.. Nutrition and sanitation explain almost the entire effect..

  6. Some serious longitudinal study should take into consideration fetish measurements, too.

    1. Magi, can you fix your ASS (anti-slavic software) filter which delays my comments for several hours, sometimes almost for a whole day and bypassing the Recent Comments. Thanks.

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