Variability of height, weight, and body mass index in a Swiss armed forces 2005 census



The influence of the environment and genetics on individual biological characteristics, such as body mass and stature is well known. Many studies of these relationships have been based on conscript data. These studies often suffer from the fact that their data cover only a part of the population. Characterized by prosperity, democratic stability and enormous micro-regional cultural diversity, Switzerland is in the unique situation of offering data covering more than 80% of annual male birth cohorts. The aim of this study is to assess the impact of socioeconomic success, cultural differences, month of birth, and altitude (among other factors) on individual anthropometric characteristics of conscripts (N ∼ 28,000) in the 2005 census. Our result highlights in such a large male sample the relationship between economic environment, regional cultural diversity, climate, and other factors, such as individual month of birth on stature and weight. Socioeconomic status, culture (as reflected by mother tongue), and month of birth were found to have significant effects on height and weight, while altitude did not show such effects. In general, weight is more affected by all these variables than height. Taking weight-dependent mortality and morbidity into account, it is of foremost public interest to know more about paired effects of living conditions on stature and weight in a highly developed society. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2008. © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.