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Are South Koreans Really Bigger Than North Koreans?

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PEDRO UGARTE/AFP/Getty Images

Bigger Statues, Smaller People: Statues of North Korea's founding president Kim Il-sung, left, and his son, Kim Jong-il, are unveiled during a ceremony in Pyongyang on April 13.

Once again, body size on the Korean peninsula is in the news:

Are North Koreans really three inches shorter than South Koreans?

…the BBC asks. Examining a 2008 inquiry by Daniel Schwekendiek, then with Germany’s University of Tuebingen, the answer is, basically, yes:

As North and South Koreans are genetically the same people, these anthropometric gaps seem largely be a manifestation of the socioeconomic differences between the two Koreas: in 2002, GDP per capita was estimated to be twelve times greater in South Korea. It is probable that these large differences are primarily due to nutrition. For instance, according to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, protein and calorie consumption is 1.4 times higher, and fat consumption 2.2 times higher for South Koreans.

In conclusion, after World War II, the two Koreas underwent diametrically opposed political transformations. Before the partition of the peninsula, Northerners were even slightly taller than Southerners. Nowadays, the situation has reversed for socioeconomic reasons. Pre-school children raised in the developing country of North Korea are up to 13 cm shorter and up to 7 kg lighter than children who were brought up in South Korea – an OECD member. North Korean women have also been found to weigh up to 9 kg less than their Southern counterparts.

This is the nation that has us spending $10 billion a year defending ourselves from their missiles?

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