Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Hip Size

I have commented before a couple times how much thinner people are here, but my brain is still trying to make sense of it. I promise this is my last comment on the subject. At least until everyone starts disrobing again next spring.

This post applies more to those on the lighter end of the spectrum. The thinner people I see here are of a size that I rarely remember seeing in the states. And here they seem much more frequent. It seems pretty obvious that the size of people stateside is due in large part to what has become standard size portions at restaurants and arguably increased influence via advertising. One fellow blogger has also gone as far as suggesting that thinner people here in downtown Montreal is due to a bulemia epidemic. But try as I might I cannot shake one theory out of my head. Genetics.

Maybe it's just the optical illusion of seeing people thinner than I am used to. But it appears to me that people's frames are smaller. Like the bone structure is not as wide. The idea kinda slipped as everyone bulked up clothing-wise for winter. Now that those layers are disappearing, I catch myself gazing at people trying to make sense of it. After three years, I still surprises me. Thighs are thinner, butts are smaller, and of course waists. That applies to both sexes. Could it be that the muscles there are more efficient and require less bulk? OK, maybe that has to do with the fact that they don't have to carry around as much bulk. But is it that they have the bare minimum to get around and they would have difficulty in a footrace? Most of the athletic people I know here aren't that skinny.

This said, there are two laws of nature that still hold true though. As people advance in age, they have a tendancy to add pounds due to inactivity. And as public transportation becomes more scarce, the same applies. Patrons of the Promenade St-Bruno put more pressure on the earth than those walking downtown Ste-Catherine. Walk farther east on Ste-Catherine and the guys get more buff, but that's a topic for another day.

So what do you think? Is it really just a case of thinner people or does the gene pool have something to do with it? Regardless, it makes for some nice summer scenery.

8 comments:

AJ said...

No, it's true; Montrealers are just wee folks. Whenever I see a group of guys over 6'3 walking around downtown, I automatically assume they're visiting from the States - and I'm usually right.

I've observed that Quebecois men tend to be shorter and stockier as a rule, and I've yet to see a Quebecois woman over 6' tall, though I'm sure they exist. Maybe this was partly genetic in cause, but some scholars suggest that environmental health was a big part of it; in the 19th century, Montreal was probably the most polluted city in North America, according to this interesting article at Maclean's

I perceive younger Quebecers to be getting taller; since the Quiet Revolution income distribution has changed a lot and every generation tends to eat better than the one before it. I don't know if we would ever become as 'brawny' as Chicagoans, though.

lightspeedchick said...

I was noticing last time I was in the states (Chicago) how large Americans are. I don't just mean the fat, I mean they are taller and larger-framed in general. I thought it had something to do with some growth hormones they are allowed to put in food in the USA, but not in Canada.

Frank said...

I agree with both of you. Actually my wife was the one who noticed that everyone was shorter here. Or more like everyone was closer to her height. It wasn't til she pointed it out that I saw that people were closer to my height (5'-10", 1.77m).

I really think the increased height and build are due to the growth hormones in the beef.

Everytime I return to the states be it from Montreal or from Paris a few times a decade ago, the difference in size is startling. It's a serious problem. Whereas I would not be seen as very overweight there, unfortunately for me I'm quite above average here.

Maybe, we're 'brawny' in Chitown because we eat so much sausage.

Rachel said...

When I was growing up in Montreal, taller women/girls with a size 9+ foot shopped in the 'Anglo' west island malls (like the Fairview Mall in Pointe Claire) because their stores carried a far better variety of shoes in those "above average" sizes. And you were out of luck if you shopped for 'tall' people's shoes or clothes anywhere else.

I know it sounds rather superficial to form theories around shoe size. But, out here in the 50/50 Franco-Anglo Maritimes, the 9+ size shoes are also scarce in Acadian communities. That would suggest that smallness isn't only a Quebécois genetic trait, but an overall common 'New World' French trait (Acadians though can't really claim pollution as a factor). Acadians are generally far smaller people than their Anglo counterparts.

I agree that now both better nutrition and the presence of hormones in the animal products we eat are changing the average size of people (as well as prompting the early onset of puberty in girls). Though Monsanto's recombinant bovine somatotropin is banned for use on dairy cows in Canada, several other hormones, both synthetic and natural are still allowed in both dairy and meat production. In fact, commercial Canadian beef is considered a product that generally contains more hormone residue than any American beef product. And that's scary because, when polled, most Canadians (including myself until very recently) strongly believe otherwise.

Blork said...

I think gene pool is also a player. Although our populations are very mixed, there are still concentrations that tend to contribute to the overal effect. In the case of Montreal, a lot of the gene pool can be traced back to parts of France where people are not all that big in stature. The American mid-west, on the other hand, was (I think) populated by a mix of Scandinavians, celts, and eastern Europeans, all of whom have larger structures.

That doesn't explain everything, but it contributes to a tendency, so to speak. Those tendencies are probably exaggerated by environmental factors, as others have brought up. So in Montreal you start with gene pool that leans towards "small" and you put them in an environment that contributes to smallness. In the American mid-west you start with a gene pool that leans towards "big" and you put them in an environment that contributes to bigness.

Regarding food, in the U.S. it's not just a question of large serving sizes. The past 60 years has seen the near total industrialization of food, which means people eat fresh food a lot less and packaged food a lot more. Packaged food is generally higher in fats and calories (and salt, and perservatives, etc.), all of which contributes to weight gain.

That phenomenon exist in Canada too, but less so in my observations. Also, there is a city/country divide and class divisions too, with wealthy urbanites eating more fresh food (in general) than poorer small-town people.

From my perspective, what always shocks me in the U.S. is the extent to which, across the board, food is an industrial commodity, and branding is considered more important than freshness.

C'est Raoul said...

There are many reasons. Most of them have been stated: genetics (funny how Montrealers feel the same in Qc city: people are smaller in Qc City). it shows. There was a greater mix of Anglo-saxon in Montreal.

It has also to do with food. Qc was not that rich few decades ago. The diversity (due to the climate) was not that great either. (Northen Europeans are at least as tall, but not as built).

I still have the same impression as your when I go to Europe: people are so much thinner over there: there are many people that have simply no fat, they are 'dry'. (often with a small alcohol belly), but that's it. In comparison, people are taller and stronglier built here.

And the same differences apply btw Qc and Canada in a way, and Canada and US.

As many said: genetic, availability of food (the war in Europe had some strong consequences on food/wealth during a couple of decades).

Frank said...

Blork and Raoul, Excellent points. I actually thought a bit about some of them since my last comment.

I grew up in a German neighborhood with significant percentages of Polish, Irish, and Greek. Filipinos and Latinos increased as time went on. But I think that German physique may have been engrained on me during childhood (along with my love for sausage). The Eastern European population here is much smaller in number but their difference in physique is noticable.

When I lived in France, the people were also thinner along with Italy and Spain. Cross the channel to England or head east and the people got heavier. But I haven't been back in ten years so my memory is a bit faded. That's an interesting point about the war.

C'est Raoul said...

What must be noted, and was mentioned in the great article AJ refered too, is the fact that the genetic play a huge role, but the environment too, and the 2 interact: they talk about the "full potential" of the genetic background.

Funny too how it is far from being constant: we progress/regress in cycle over time.

It's also mentionned that canadians are now taller than USers. I am surprised a bit.
Anyway, they do not mention black people or hispanic. Both are quite off the 'average population'. I wonder if an Africa country does not have taller people than Netherlands?

Regarding the war, I remember that one hypothesis about obesity was that children who grew up during or right after wartime (hence partly deprived) tent to be more obese. Like an organic reflex to store fat.
Apparently, that's not the case.