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What Is Anthropometric?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 16 October 2014
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Anthropometric is a term which refers to taking quantitative measurements of the human body. Numerous measurements of the body can be taken, ranging from bone density scans to height measurements. There are a number of ways in which anthropometric information can be utilized and there are several large databases of measurements from thousands of people which can be used for the purpose of comparison and study.

The origins of taking measurements of humans is quite old, although the term "anthropometric" was not coined until the 1800s. Early anatomists were very interested in measuring and comparing different bodies, studying variations in the size and shape of the body as a whole as well as organs. In addition, artists were concerned with measurements because they wanted their work to be accurate and they were curious about proportions.

Historically, people believed that a great deal of information could be obtained from anthropometric data. Some physicians thought that measuring the body could provide information about health, for example, while psychologists theorized that the dimensions of the head might provide insight into the nature of the mind. Early anthropologists used physical measurements to argue that some races were superior to others.

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While much of the earlier study of anthropometrics has been debunked, there are still a wide range of applications for measurements of the body. Parents with growing children benefit from huge studies on the growth of children, for example, which have generated growth charts against which children can be compared as they develop. Anthropologists continue to use anthropometric data to study the differences between various groups of people, though they no longer do so with the goal of promoting racial superiority.

Measuring people can also provide information about how humans are changing, with such measurements being used by people who develop clothing, furniture, and other consumer goods which are dependent on average user size. Measurements can include length measurements of various aspects of the body, ranging from overall height to individual fingers, along with weights, measurements of fat with calipers, and measurements which are taken to learn more about the inside of the body, such as density measurements and scans.

The study of human measurements is not limited to living humans. Physical anthropologists study skeletons and take a number of anthropometric measurements which have far-reaching applications, perhaps most notably in forensics where people can sometimes identify a victim on the basis of unique skeletal traits. Individual organs are also extensively studied.

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goldenbears
Post 7

Reading this article reminds me of my dad working at a clothing manufacturing company. He said that anthropometric measurements were used to determine how much of which sizes to produce. The range of sizes that his company thought would fit the majority of Americans were the ones that were made.

The problem with this is that with America's increase in ethnic diversity come an increase in body sizes and shapes. What was a typical size of an American 30 year old woman, for example, in the 1960s is not necessarily the typical size today.

I think clothing manufactures should re-examine the sizes of their clothes every so often, as demographics are constantly changing.

Oski
Post 6

@wearedr - I remember learning about anthropometric measurements at a young age as well. In elementary school, I was introduced to the topic when studying the Holocaust.

My teacher took the topic a bit further. He actually measured the entire class's noses with a device he said was similar to the one that the Nazi's used.

He then told each member of the class if they would be considered Jewish or not, based on the size of their nose.

According to my measurements, I would have been considered Jewish. In actuality, I am not. This made me realize how simple minded the uses of anthropometry could be.

wearedr
Post 5

I remember in my sixth grade class, I studied the Holocaust during World War II. If I remember correctly, my teacher said that Nazi officials would measure the width and length of people's noses as a way of telling if they were Jewish or not.

Based on anthropometric measurements, Jews are supposed to have larger noses than Anglo Saxons.

She also said that measuring noses made it easier for the Nazis to identify people as Jewish when they denied it.

It's amazing how science was used as a means of identifying individuals, and then eventually destroying them.

irontoenail
Post 4

People used to think that parts of the body reflected the personality and abilities of the person they belong to.

It sounds weird now, but then people still believe that the date of your birth can determine what kind of person you are (I mean with Zodiac signs and other things like that).

I think that's why people talk about having a stubborn chin.

But it was more about the shape of the head.

Lumps in certain places meant you were an angry person, or a greedy person or whatever. They tried to determine the head shapes scientifically at first, but I think they might have fudged the results a little. OK, maybe a lot.

browncoat
Post 3

This makes me think of all the measurements we took of my nephew while he was growing up. Pretty much every week when he was a baby we would weigh him and make sure he was putting on enough weight.

In fact, in his case it was a matter of making sure he wasn't putting on too much weight! He was a very big baby, but proportionate to his height. He wasn't fat, just big.

After a while he got too big for the standard baby measuring devices and they had to get bigger ones.

At three, supposedly you can measure your child and double the height and that's roughly how tall they will be one day. My nephew was around three and a half feet at that point, so one day he could well be seven feet tall.

GoofyLou
Post 2

Anthropometric data tables are also being used by designers and engineers to help create more ergonomic products. This will not only make things like tools and computer equipment easier and more comfortable to use, it will also help reduce injuries and permanent muscle and joint damage.

KimchiSmile
Post 1

Manikin anthropometry is another interesting use of anthropometric measurements. Designers are using digital manikins to build spacesuits that can fit over 99% of the US population.

The ability to construct these 3D digital models of the human body is a boon to researchers in many fields, including medicine and engineering.

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