Inequalities of height or the height of inequality? Children's growth charts and the meanings of height in the Philippines
(University of Amsterdam)
Paper short abstract:
Mindful of height as both a measure and source of inequalities, this paper explores the linkages between international child growth standards and the meanings of height in the Philippines by presenting a local history of growth charts and drawing from an “ethnography of height” in a Philippine city.
Paper long abstract:
Over the past half century, height has emerged as a key indicator of health, both at the level of populations and individuals, particularly children. Malnutrition is a persistent problem, and this has given rise to the measuring and monitoring of children's growth, using international 'child growth standards'. The contemporary picture is that of inequality, with significant differences between the global North and South, as well as between rich and poor within the same populations. Inspired by Canguilheim's deconstruction of the "normal" and "pathological" in scientific and medical praxis, my paper looks at the history of growth charts, both globally and in the Philippines, and the local discourses (anxieties, aspirations) that were generated by the shift towards an international 'child growth standard' in the early 2000s. I then draw from my ethnographic work among young people and in health centers in Puerto Princesa, Philippines, to situate public health practice in the everyday lives of mothers, chilren, and health workers. Finally I offer a broader view of what height means for the Philippines, where the average height is 163 cm for males and 154 cm for females. Concerns and practices about children's growth and particularly height, I argue, are inexorably linked to the meanings of height in the Philippines. In turn, these meanings, which engage notions of race, beauty, class, and status, inform and give rise to practices of height-making that converge (and diverge) with public health and pediatric knowledge in interesting ways.
Anthropology of health indicators and statistics