Wednesday, December 23, 2009

NYT on Korea's obsession with height

Choe Sanghun of the New York Times has a piece on the lengths (wholly unintended pun) that some South Korean parents will go to make their kids taller. An excerpt:
With acupuncture needles trembling from the corners of her mouth like cat’s whiskers, Moon Bo-in, 5, whined with fear. But the doctor, wearing a yellow gown patterned with cartoon characters, poked more needles into her wrists and scalp.

“It’s O.K., dear,” said her mother, Seo Hye-kyong. “It will help make you pretty and tall. It will make you Cinderella.”

A growing conviction that tallness is crucial to success has prompted South Korean parents to try all manner of approaches to increase their children’s height, spawning hundreds of “growth clinics” that offer growth hormone shots, Eastern herbal medicine and special exercises to ensure that young clients will be the ones looking down, not the ones looked down upon.

“In our society, it’s all about looks,” said Ms. Seo, 35. “I’m afraid my daughter is shorter than her peers. I don’t want her to be ridiculed and lose self-confidence because of her height.”

Ms. Seo spends $770 a month on treatments for her daughter and her 4-year-old son at one such clinic, Hamsoa, which has 50 branches across the country, where the protocol includes acupuncture, aromatherapy and a twice-a-day tonic that contains deer antler, ginseng and other medicinal herbs.
The danger with these articles is that, while pointing out a trend that is interesting and possibly significant, they tend to exaggerate how widespread a phenomenon is. An article in the Los Angeles Times a few years back on tongue-snipping for better pronunciation, for example, took on a life all its own.

While there are no doubt parents who have the means to pump growth hormone into their kids or have their bones fractured and spread slightly apart so that they will end up slightly taller each time, the vast, vast, vast majority cannot or do not do this. Rather, South Koreans are getting taller on average with changes in diet and what-not.

Now what someone needs to do (and if this hasn't been done by the time I'm finished with grad school, I suppose I can do it) is get obsessive parents to realize the connection exercise and adequate sleep have with proper growth. "Four hours succeed, five hours fail" is a recipe for a short, angry kid.

No offense, Anonymous #23.

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