Darwin on Steroids

There’s little doubt that the human body has changed markedly over the past century. One glance at old movie photographs shows how the physiology of human beings has evolved in the past century. We’re compressing evolution. You might call this phenomenon “Darwin on Steroids.”

At a September 2002 Leicester science festival, Professor Andrew Prentice, a nutrition expert from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, remarked that people are now undergoing changes similar to those occurring two centuries ago, when Europeans shot up in height by 12 inches (30cm) or more. “I’m talking about the remarkable change that has occurred in man’s evolution in just the twinkling of an eyelid,” the BBC quoted Prentice as saying.

In December 2010, 16-year-old Laura Dekker, a teenager from the Netherlands pictured above, sailed around the world by herself, a perfect example of a trend dubbed KAGOY by Mattel — “Kids Are Growing Older Younger.”

One could argue that the physical attributes of movie stars merely mirror the changing attitudes of casting agents, but a casual observation of teens attending your nearest high school will confirm that major changes are under way:

  • Height – Today’s high school kids today are taller. In March 2005, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that men and women alike had added an inch in height since 1960 — with the average American woman now standing 5-foot-4 and the average male hitting 5-foot-9-1/2. In fact, over the past 150 years the average height of people in industrialized nations has increased approximately about four inches (10cm). At the 2009 U.S. Tennis Open, the men were, on average, one inch taller and five pounds heavier than players 20 years earlier, reports The Wall Street Journal.
  • Bust size – Japanese women’s bust sizes are increasing. Women in their 20s wear bras at least two sizes larger than their mothers, reports Wacoal, Japan’s largest lingerie company. And they’re not alone. Since the 1920s, British women’s busts have grown four inches (10cm), going from a B cup to a C, and some, like bra maker Bravissimo, believe the average British bra size is closer 34E.
  • Hip measurement – In May 2007, The Wall Street Journal noted that the average Japanese woman’s hips, at 35 inches (89cm), are an inch wider than those of women a generation ago. In the U.K., the average 11-year-old girl has a hip measurement of 32 inches (82cm), compared to 31 inches (78cm) in 1978.
  • Shoe size – In the past 20 years, the shoe size of the average American woman has grown a full size to an 8 or 9, up from a 7 or 8. More than one-third of women now wear a size 9 or larger, up from 11% in 1987, The NPD Group noted in in July 2004. Two trends are influencing this phenomenon, women are generally taller and now carry more weight, in the form of computers, mobile phones and the like, requiring better balance.
  • KAGOY – Kids also tend to be more precocious these days. A myriad of media reports echo the sentiments of parents across the U.S.A., that today’s children reach maturity far faster than ever before. Mattel Toys calls the phenomenon KAGOY — Kids Are Growing Older Younger. We call it “Darwin on Steroids.”

The reasons for these rapid changes is usually ascribed to nutrition and, in some instances, the use of artificial means, typically the female sex hormone estrogen or the male hormone testosterone.

Steroids in Sports
The use of testosterone and other other artificial methods like the human growth hormone HGH, has exploded in the past three decades, especially in professional sports. Russian weightlifters first used testosterone at the 1954 Vienna weightlifting championships.

Once steroids and their effects were better understood, they filtered down to other athletes and, eventually, non-athletes. That athletes would be first to experiment with anabolic steroids is easily understood — the better they perform, the more money they stand to make.

The evolution of American football players clearly shows the “Darwin on Steroids” effect. The U.S. is breeding their favorite gladiators bigger and stronger, so they can better compete in their quasi “sudden death” matches.

No wonder that steroid use in professional sports runs rampant, despite the valiant efforts of authorities to keep sports clean from drugs and other artificial means of “cheating”:

  • Young athletes – Young athletes are increasingly joining the steroids club. The National Institutes of Health’s ongoing Monitoring the Future study found in its 2004 survey that 270,000 eighth, 10th and 12th graders nationwide, 3.4% admitted steroid use, a 62% increase in use among 12th graders since 1991. As far back as 2002, USA Today reported that 500,000 to 600,000 kids were using steroids, with abuse by non-athlete females said to be “twice as high.”
  • Barry Bonds – Fans have surmised for a while that Bonds used drugs to enhance his performance. A March 2004 USA TODAY/Gallup/CNN poll found that 64% agreed with the statement that Bonds “probably used steroids.” The evidence is overwhelming: Bonds morphed from a 185-pound (84kg) Pittsburgh Pirate to a hulking, 230-pound (104kg) Giants outfielder, who, suddenly at age 37, hit a record-setting 73 home runs.
  • Lance Armstrong – Another “miracle” happened to Lance Armstrong. After surviving a near-death bout with testicular cancer, Armstrong was somehow able to return to cycling and win the grueling Tour de France a whopping seven times, starting at age 29.
  • Marion Jones – After winning three Olympic gold and two bronze medals at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Marion Jones admitted in 2007 that she used steroids.

There’s no question that the widespread use of steroids among athletes is causing a nagging “approval creep” from sports fans to set in. In September 2007, 13% of Facebook users we polled believed steroids should be legalized, while another 12% were not so sure.

We’re repeating the survey and will publish results soon, but keep in mind that a study of the effects of magazine articles have on the topic of steroids in sports, shows that more articles lead to a higher rate of disapproval.

It appears that Bonds, Armstrong and Jones, and many others, are fervent believers in the old DuPont ad slogan, “Better Living Through Chemistry,” accelerating the evolution of mankind.