중앙데일리

At the DMZ, average height changes 4 inches

Nov 20,2006
Park Sun-ae, an 18-year-old woman from North Korea who defected to the South two years ago, said her pride was hurt badly when she went on a field trip a week ago. While visiting the Independence Memorial in Cheonan, she said, a high school student approached her and told her, “You look like an elementary school kid. How old are you?”
Ms. Park is 153 centimeters (5 feet) tall, and she was 145 centimeters when she arrived in South Korea two years ago. “While I was in the North, I was about average in size,” she said. “There, I never heard myself described as being short.”
A half-century of division between the two Koreas and the relative economic differences have made a conspicuous physical difference in the average heights of North and South Koreans, two surveys by South Korean health authorities have shown. Although based on limited evidence, the findings have prompted concern among experts here that differences in physique may become a social and economic code to distinguish ― and discriminate between ― North and South Koreans after reunification.
The Korea Center for Disease Control and Prevention surveyed the physical condition of 1,075 North Korean defectors ranging in age from 20 to 39 in 2005. According to the results of the survey, the average height of North Korean males was 165.6 centimeters, and that of North Korean females 154.9 centimeters.
By comparison, an average South Korean man was 172.5 centimeters tall and a woman 159.1 centimeters tall in a survey the same year by the Ministry of Health and Welfare of the same age group.
“The measurements show that North Korea’s health and nutrition condition regressed to that of the 1960s,” an official at the Health Ministry said. The communist country has been suffering from food shortages and the collapse of its public health and medical care system.
The physical gap may be widening, experts here worried. Chung Woo-jin, a professor at Yonsei University’s Graduate School of Public Health, said the height difference between men of the two Koreas could be more than 11 centimeters by 2025, with a 6-centimeter difference in women’s height. He also said South Koreans’ body type is becoming “Westernized,” with longer legs, while North Koreans are developing longer upper body parts.
Because of the nature of the North Korean regime, it rarely releases official data on its population, the Unification Ministry and the National Statistical Office said. Experts often use body measurements of defectors in the South to estimate data for the North Korean population.
But North Korans who defect to the South often suffer relatively more economic hardships and food shortages; their body measurements may not be an accurate picture of North Koreans as a group, Mr. Chung said. “For example, the physical condition of North Koreans at the Chinese border could be inferior to that of Pyongyang residents,” he said.
But the experts agreed that the South Korean health authority’s data are consistent with information provided by some international organizations.
“This is a case showing that genetically identical groups can develop different physical conditions depending on their living environments,” said Chung Byung-ho, an anthropologist at Hanyang University. “This will be a social and economic burden for future generations.”
Experts worried that the height difference could be a barrier in integrating the two Koreas. “The hardships that North Koreans suffered will be portrayed in their heights, and their social status here could be easily detected by eye after unification,” Mr. Chung said.


by Team,Ser Myo-ja



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