Book review: Human body size and the laws of scaling: physiological, performance, growth, longevity and ecological ramifications


Human body size and the laws of scaling: physiological, performance, growth, longevity and ecological ramifications
Edited by Thomas T Samaras
Nova Biomedicals
ISBN-10: 1600214088

Is the substantial increase in human height and weight over the last century a positive development for society and individuals within society in terms of physical performance, health and longevity? If this question generates a personal interest then this book on human body size is worth finding. The content and material in this book are primarily directed towards clinicians and researchers interested in the area of scaling in biology and medicine, and general readers who find these questions a welcome diversion from their own activities.

Among the topics and questions explored are the advantages and disadvantages of greater human height; relationships between body height and weight and chronic disease and longevity; the obesity epidemic related to birthweight; the evolutionary ecology of humans with reference to body size; and the impact of body size on social, political and economics issues such as resources, pollution and the environment.

This is unashamedly a quantitative and experimental book. However, the authors wisely devote an early chapter to introducing the mathematical concepts of human scaling, allometry and isometry. The methods for estimating changes in parameters representing human size (including height, weight, volume, surface area, strength, and acceleration) based on the laws of scaling, geometry and physics are well-described. There is detailed treatment of the Body Mass Index (BMI), which retains popularity in medical and industry circles despite some of its shortcomings highlighted in the peer-reviewed literature.

The reference period of the work covered in this book is generally years to decades, which makes a change for the busy sports medicine practitioner whose timeframe is often days to weeks. The discussion of changes over the last 100♣years provides a longer-term frame of reference for evaluating the impact of the substantial increases in stature, mass, body mass index and longevity. There are also useful insights into the obesity epidemic that now challenges practitioners and policymakers around the world. This public health issue has seemingly arisen quickly over the last decade or two and the underlying experimental and epidemiological work discussed in the book is pertinent and well-received.

Much of the book is directed toward health, longevity, lifestyle and disease issues rather than sports medicine per se. In terms of sports medicine there is little of direct interest to the sports medicine practitioner or sports performance researcher. However, there is only limited treatment of scaling of physiological measures (such as maximal oxygen uptake, and muscular strength and power) that influence sports performance.

The format of the book consists of 14 individual chapters and a useful appendix detailing symbols, acronyms and abbreviations used throughout the book. There is liberal use of informative sub-headings in most chapters, which makes it a bit easier for the general reader to access the information. One or two of the chapters examining the research on gene knockout and transgenic mice are a little more challenging and best left to the specialist reader. The book is extensively referenced with a small selection of illustrative material.

Only three authors contributed to the book, so it is not overtly a broad-scale collaborative effort. In fact, two of the three authors contribute 13 of the 14 chapters, so it is really a two-handed effort. Nonetheless, this book is worth a read for those with an interest in the evolutionary issues of human size and the impact of longevity, health and physiology. Familiarity with a quantitative rather than a qualitative approach will be useful for readers wishing to tackle this book.

Review by David Pyne
Department of Physiology, Australian Institute of Sport

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