As with most ideas it’s likely that someone has already had this one. But on the vanishingly small chance that it is not only a useful idea but an original one, there’s an interesting data source to track childhood nutrition.
It’s even possible to use Bangladeshi knowledge and resources to check this. The world’s RMG industry is one of the things making Bangladesh richer. But that means that the very industry we’d want to use to use to check this insight is right there too. For, obviously, clothes are made to size.
There’s a mix of tall and short, wide, and narrow, that has to be made and supplied. That mix will depend upon the measurements of the target population. Further, that mix will be different for different countries, but more than that clothes are aimed at different age groups. Check the mix of sizes being produced for the different age groups and we’ve that obvious proof of changes in size over time.
The RMG factories are going to be making taller clothes for the younger people. Which is the very proof of the UN’s contention up at the top, childhood nutrition is improving.
Much – OK, a useful proportion – of the world ready made garments industry is based in Bangladesh. For Europe there’s also still a significant concentration in Portugal and Spain – shorter times to market explain that.
Clothes are made in a variety of sizes. Retailers have a pretty good idea of what mixture of sizes their target population will buy. This is what they order too.
We can also note that clothes are, these days, aimed at certain age groups. This gives us a method of looking at population heights by generation.
Sure, there are real numbers out there, health services measure people. But there are places where such records aren’t easily available, or even extant perhaps.
But someone like Zara – or more importantly, Inditex – will know the size distribution by age group in each of its target markets. So, if we’re looking for evidence of changes in past diet, that move to general sufficiency that prevents stunting, we could just go ask them.
My own lifetime observation says that the Italian change happened in the 50s and 60s. Those my age and a little more are notably taller than their parents. In Portugal it was later, perhaps the 70s and 80s. And wouldn’t it be interesting to find out whether the socialist diets made a difference to heights?