3 Crazy Ways The Human Body's Changing In Our Own Lifetimes

3 Crazy Ways The Human Body's Changing In Our Own Lifetimes

Our bodies are changing. And not because we're all finally going through a very special time in our lives, but rather because genetics quietly march onward. So while we may tend to think that the modern human body is a fixed product, it's actually in a transitional mode, which can be seen in ways as subtle as they are ridiculous and infuriating. Such as how ...

Our Feet Are Getting Bigger (And Flatter)

In the greatest news for fetishists since sandals became hip again, Britain's College of Podiatry determined that the average shoe size has increased by two over the last 40 years. A women's 6 (that's British for 8) and men's 10 (a Yankee 10.5) is the new standard. In America, women averaged a size 6.5 in the 1960s, but today tend to be in the 8.5-9 range, meaning most of them could absolutely destroy their grandmothers at foot wrestling.

Bigger feet are a side effect of bigger everything else. The obesity crisis has reached the point where 60% of surveyed Brits noticed that their feet have widened over the years, and god knows how many couldn't tell because they can't even see their feet anymore. A larger body means a wider foot that's desperately trying to accommodate your wheezing trot to 7-11 for more beef jerky.

Nutritional standards have also skyrocketed right alongside our propensity to add bacon grease to our coffee. Back in the 19th century, children were given just enough gruel for breakfast to provide them with the energy to pick up a mining lantern. But when we have access to so much good food that the only modern health risk most kids face is from shoveling enough into their mouths to feed an entire Dickensian orphanage twice over, they're reaching heights that would make them look like mini-Apollos to the youth of yore, and they're hitting those heights earlier and more often. And taller people have bigger feet, as anyone who's watched a basketball game or browsed some of the creepier subreddits knows.

3 Crazy Ways The Human Body's Changing In Our Own Lifetimes
Lewis Hine/National Archives
Back in the days when growing up tall only meant you were presenting a larger target during a European trench war.

If our feet were merely growing larger to accommodate taller frames fueled by modern food standards, then the biggest issue here would be decreased closet space. But the bones of children are still malleable, so obese children (which, these days, is a lot of them) are flattening their arches with their excess weight. This could lead to an increase in flat feet, which in turn can produce pain, undue stress on the body, and public mockery for the kids who grow up to attempt a political career.

Meanwhile, adults are giving themselves pain and deformities by trying to cram their sausage toes into shoes that can no longer accommodate them, either out of vanity, ignorance, or a simple lack of availability of larger shoes. So try to keep an eye on your foot health until the big and tall stores open shoe departments.

Related: 7 Creepy Physical Changes Your Mind Can Make In Your Body

Blue Eyes Are Becoming Increasingly Rare

In a huge blow to both Frank Sinatra fans and neo-Nazis, only about 16.6% of Americans had blue eyes in 2006, as opposed to 33% in 1950 and a full 50% of our sweet children back in 1900. But exactly what's behind blue eyes? They're a recessive trait -- which, to give you the short version because we're too dumb to understand the long one, only emerge when two people who share that trait reproduce. So if someone with blue eyes picks up another blue-eyed person at the bar, their illicit lovechild will have blue eyes, but if they snag a brown-eyed partner because they were influenced by the Van Morrison on the jukebox, then their child will be destined to have brown eyes, because that's a dominant trait. It's a little more complicated than that, but that's the gist of what you need to know to speculate on the appearance of your horde of drunken bastard children.

But then, why are blue eyes only in decline now? Shouldn't they have been reduced to a minority back when America was but a twinkle in mostly brown Puritan eyes? Well, for most of human history, people married almost exclusively within their own ethnic group, whether because the marriage was arranged to score some sweet cows next door, because marrying someone of another race was frowned upon (if not flat-out illegal), or because your village only had three candidates, and the only discernible difference between them was slightly different nostrils.

Blue eyes are a generally European trait that can be traced back to a 10,000ish-year-old mutation from the brown-eyed norm. And as recently as 1950, 90% of Americans were white, and blue eyes were associated with the girl next door you were expected to marry because her dad ran the hardware store and was an upstanding church member. Today, due to increased immigration and only the most gaping of assholes opposing interracial marriage, a third of Americans are nonwhite, and the vast majority are motivated to marry by a crazy little thing called love.

From a biological perspective, this means almost nothing -- although blue eyes are at a higher risk of macular degeneration, because the Universe seemingly wants to spite the white supremacists who have been sounding their dumb alarms over this trend since the '30s (it's also because less pigment means a greater sensitivity to light). The more interesting changes have been, and will continue to be, social. Blue eyes aren't going to vanish entirely, but they're becoming rare enough that advertisers now think of brown eyes as the embodiment (eneydiment?) of the average American. That's a subtle but significant change from the decades when blue eyes were considered the American ideal of beauty, reproductive ability, and cloying love song references.

Related: The 5 Strangest Things Evolution Left In Your Body

Humans Need More Energy Than Ever Before

Humans are getting bigger and wider, in what won't be news to anyone who has been in public recently, struggled to sit up in bed this morning, or remembers the third paragraph of this article. From 1975 to 2014, adults worldwide grew an average of 1.3% taller and 14% heavier, and that in turn meant that their daily caloric intake grew from 2,465 to 2,615.

150 extra calories doesn't sound like a lot -- it's essentially a couple of Oreos or a handful of almonds -- but extrapolate that over the estimated 9.8 billion people who are expected to live on the planet by 2050, and you've suddenly got a pretty significant increase in humanity's demand for food. Looking at that 1975-2014 stretch again, there was a 129% increase in the globe's food energy needs, and while most of that was due to a growing population (and populations don't grow unless there's food to sustain them in the first place), our increasing hugeness accounted for 15% of that uptick in demand.

2615 161cm 2465 163. 1 cm kcal/day kcal/day 56.7 kg J 647 kg 39.7 years old 42.2 years old 1975 2014
NITU, via Smithsonian Magazine
We imagine the demand for comfort-fit jeans probably has yet to peak, too.

This is not some Malthusian and/or Thanosian call to panic about the world's population. We're already producing enough food to feed 2.5 billion more people than are currently alive today. The real challenge is in effectively distributing it, because we need to reexamine the eating habits that have turned us into people who would look like tubby giants to previous centuries.

Roughly 25% of the world's food calories are lost before they're even consumed. The developing world struggles with unreliable storage and movement, but in developed countries, we simply waste food by buying what we don't need and serving portions that are larger than anyone can or should eat. Then the leftovers go in the garbage and feed those freeloading raccoons. There's also the matter of what we eat, as shifting to a less meat-heavy diet would cut into the 36% of calories that are created solely to feed livestock. No, we won't have to go full vegan (even just eating more chicken and less beef would help), but we do have to start thinking about what we put on our grocery lists and restaurant menus.

There's a fine line between a healthy body produced by having the greatest access to food in human history and a body that struggles to function because our decadent lifestyles have made us more French fry than flesh. And for the sake of everyone, we're going to have to do a better job of figuring that line out. Or, at the very least, we'll have to start gorging ourselves on locally grown organic fries.

Mark is on Twitter and wrote a book.

For more, check out What Your Doctor Wants To Tell You, But Can't:

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