From the New York Times:

"Looking at records from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, they have found evidence that shorter men are 20 to 30 percent more likely to end up in prison than their taller counterparts, and that obesity and physical attractiveness are linked to crime."

The article is interesting throughout, so read the whole thing.  

It’s unclear to what extent the effects are purely relative — for example, there will always be shorter people in any population, so will those people be more prone to criminality even if they are tall or healthy in the absolute?  Or perhaps it matters whether your traits are valued in the labor market, and there is some evidence for that:

"In [the 19th century] increased body weight was associated with a lower risk of crime. In the 21st century, though, in which service jobs are much more common, Mr. Price found that being overweight was linked to a higher risk of crime."

But you can bet that body weight was a lot lower back in the 19th century, and a higher body weight may have indicated vitality, not disability.  Being underweight may have indicated lower health. 

The bottom line: Health has real implications for our society beyond just health care costs.


7 Responses to “Does poor health cause crime?”

  1. Melissa says:

    One thing that was striking to me reading In Cold Blood was the diet of the two criminals- basically sugar and refined carbs. It’s hard to say whether that led to some of their behavior, but it’s clear that both were nutritionally deficient.

  2. Gattman says:

    JD, these the weight and the crime are derivatives of poverty, not each other.  The obesity comment would mirror what was poor / rich (poor people were more likely to thin in the 19th C; in the 21st C, poor are more likely to be heavy)

  3. Alishahndra says:
    • (Sorry for the bullet point format, but I don’t know how to make my posts not run together like one big ramble-fest.)
    • “concluded from 19th-century prison records. In that era increased body weight was associated with a lower risk of crime.”
      • While I trust that Dr. Bodenhorn and Mr. Price probably are quite good at their jobs, I would be interested to take a look at the original records.  Were the records taken at the time that the prisoners entered into the system or at some point when they were already in the prison system, eating the prison food…?
    • I think that social scientists have come up with a lot of good theories about this topic “…these students may suffer a drop in self-esteem or not develop certain kinds of social skills that are useful later in life…” or “smaller stature may be a sign of an impoverished upbringing,” etc. Truthfully, I am rather hoping that this is something that can be combated with better quality foods, or a plan like the one Mrs. O. premiered the other day, because the idea of dealing with this problem at the level of self-esteem in pre-teens and teens is an uphill battle (and it scares the crap out of me).
    • I am wondering, based on the research that shows that women on The Pill are attracted to more feminized men (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sex-dawn/201005/how-the-pill-could-ruin-your-life), does this mean that more of the manly-looking American men are going to be increasingly forced into crime?  
      • Not to start pondering the likelihood or logic of reading the incarcerated men’s pages in The Pheonix or whatever, but doesn’t this potentially seem like a really bad thing, evolutionarily speaking, if in fact those with less desirable traits to the opposite sex are pushed into a life of crime (for reasons of economics, etc.)? 
      • Are the men in control going to remain unaffected by the women that are constantly seeking out less and less threatening men or could the levels of estrogens and endocrine disrupting chemicals that we all are exposed to, in the water, etc. going to make the men “girly men?”
      • Is it possible that metro-sexuals will, I shudder to think it, be the only men left unincarcerated…excuse me, I think my ovaries are panicing. 
    • And on a final note: “Mr. Komlos, for example, wrote a 2007 paper with Benjamin E. Lauderdale that found that Americans were the ‘tallest in the world between colonial times and the middle of the 20th century,’ but have since ‘become shorter (and fatter) than Western and Northern Europeans. In fact, the United States population is currently at the bottom end of the height distribution in advanced industrial countries.’” 
      • Well that’s just distressing.
      • …sigh, ah well, at least I can move to Germany or start up a paleo-dating site, because this $#!^ is for the birds.
    • Luke says:

      To that extent, if males which are more "manly" turn to higher crime rates due to the fact that they cannot find a mate.. it makes me wonder if the types and frequency of such crimes will rise.  for instance rape.  scary.. 

  4. Benno Hansen says:

    Hello, hunter-gatherers,

    Please allow me to blatantly advertise the ‘crime’ tag on my own blog, Ecowar. Especially the post from today (including ‘your’ link) and the oldest about weather and crime.

    I’ll keep an eye on your blog from now on ­čśë

  5. Nicole says:

    It was an interesting article.  A lot of the article was along the lines of what Weston Price hypothesized when studying cultures and nutrition and wrote about in Nutrition and Physical Degeneration ( http://www.journeytoforever.org/farm_library/price/pricetoc.html ).  Funny how nutrition is just a small sidenote of these current behavioral studies, when it probably is the most important variable of size/shape vs. crime. 

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