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anthropometric adj : of or relating to anthropometry [syn: anthropometrical]

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  1. of, or relating to anthropometry

Extensive Definition

Anthropometry (Greek ἄνθρωπος, man, and μέτρον, measure, literally meaning "measurement of humans"), in physical anthropology, refers to the measurement of living human individuals for the purposes of understanding human physical variation.
Today, anthropometry plays an important role in industrial design, clothing design, ergonomics, and architecture where statistical data about the distribution of body dimensions in the population are used to optimize products. Changes in life styles, nutrition and ethnic composition of populations lead to changes in the distribution of body dimensions (e.g., the obesity epidemic), and require regular updating of anthropometric data collections.


Bertillon, Galton, and criminology

The French savant, Alphonse Bertillon (b. 1853), gave this name in 1883 to a system of identification depending on the unchanging character of certain measurements of parts of the human frame. He found by patient inquiry that several physical features and the dimensions of certain bones or bony structures in the body remain practically constant during adult life. He concluded from this that when these measurements were made and recorded systematically every single individual would be found to be perfectly distinguishable from others. The system was soon adapted to police methods, as the immense value of being able to fix a person's identity was fully realized, both in preventing false impersonation and in bringing home to any one charged with an offense his responsibility for previous wrongdoing. "Bertillonage," as it was called, became widely popular, and after its introduction into France in 1883, where it was soon credited with highly gratifying results, was applied to the administration of justice in most civilized countries. England followed tardily, and it was not until 1894 that an investigation of the methods used and results obtained was made by a special committee sent to Paris for the purpose. It reported favorably, especially on the use of the measurements for primary classification, but recommended also the adoption in part of a system of "finger prints" as suggested by Francis Galton, and already practiced in Bengal.
  1. Length of left foot
  2. Length of left middle finger
  3. Length of left cubit: Elbow to tip of middle finger
  4. Width of cheeks
  5. Length of left little finger
From this great mass of details, soon represented in Paris by the collection of some 100,000 cards, it was possible, proceeding by exhaustion, to sift and sort down the cards till a small bundle of half a dozen produced the combined facts of the measurements of the individual last sought. The whole of the information is easily contained in one cabinet of very ordinary dimensions, and most ingeniously contrived so as to make the most of the space and facilitate the search. The whole of the record is independent of names, and the final identification is by means of the photograph which lies with the individual's card of measurements. During the early 20th century, anthropometry was used extensively by anthropologists in the United States and Europe. One of its primary uses became the attempted differentiation between differences in the races of man, and it was often employed to show ways in which races were "inferior" to others. The wide application of intelligence testing also became incorporated into a general anthropometric approach, and many forms of anthropometry were used for the advocacy of eugenics policies. During the 1920s and 1930s, though, members of the school of cultural anthropology of Franz Boas also began to use anthropometric approaches to discredit the concept of fixed biological race. Anthropometric approaches to these types of problems became abandoned in the years after the Holocaust in Nazi Germany, who also famously relied on anthropometric measurements to distinguish Aryans from Jews. This school of physical anthropology generally went into decline during the 1940s.
During the 1940s anthropometry was used by William Sheldon when evaluating his somatotypes, according to which characteristics of the body can be translated into characteristics of the mind. Inspired by Cesare Lombroso's criminal anthropology, he also believed that criminality could be predicted according to the body type. This use of anthropometry is today also outdated. Because of his extensive reliance on photographs of nude Ivy League students for his work, Sheldon ran into considerable controversy when his work became public.

Modern Anthropometry and Biometrics

Anthropometric studies are today conducted for numerous different purposes. Academic anthropologists investigate the evolutionary significance of differences in body proportion between populations whose ancestors lived in different environmental settings. Human populations exhibit similar climatic variation patterns to other large-bodied mammals, following Bergmann's rule, which states that individuals in cold climates will tend to be larger than ones in warm climates, and Allen's rule, which states that individuals in cold climates will tend to have shorter, stubbier limbs than those in warm climates. On a micro evolutionary level, anthropologists use anthropometric variation to reconstruct small-scale population history. For instance, John Relethford's studies of early twentieth-century anthropometric data from Ireland show that the geographical patterning of body proportions still exhibits traces of the invasions by the English and Norse centuries ago.
Outside academia, scientists working for private companies and government agencies conduct anthropometric studies to determine what range of sizes clothing and other items need to be manufactured in. A basically anthropometric division of body types into the categories endomorphic, ectomorphic and mesomorphic derived from Sheldon's somatotype theories is today popular among people doing weight training.
The US Military has conducted over 40 anthropometric surveys of U.S. Military personnel between 1945 and 1988, including the 1988 Army Anthropometric Survey (ANSUR) of men and women with its 240 measures. Statistical data from these surveys, which encompassed over 75,000 individuals, can be found in
Today people are performing anthropometry with three-dimensional scanners. The subject has a three-dimensional scan taken of their body, and the anthropometrist extracts measurements from the scan rather than directly from the individual. This is beneficial for the anthropometrist in that they can use this scan to extract any measurement at any time and the individual does not have to wait for each measurement to be taken separately.
In 2001 the UK conducted the largest sizing survey using scanners up to date. Since then there have been several national surveys which have followed in the UK's pioneering steps, notably these are SizeUSA, SizeMexico & Size Thailand, the latter are still ongoing. Size UK showed that the nation had got taller and heavier, but not as much as many had expected. Since 1951 when the last women's survey had taken place the average weight for women had gone up from 62 to 65 kg.
A global collaborative study to examine the uses of three-dimensional scanners for health care was launched in March 2007. The Body Benchmark Study will investigate the use of three-dimensional scanners to calculate volumes and segmental volumes of an individual body scan. The aim is to establish whether The Body Volume Index has the potential to be used as a long-term computer based anthropometric measurement for health care. More conventional anthropometric measurements also have uses in medical anthropology and epidemiology, for example in helping to determine the relationship between various body measurements (height, weight, percentage body fat, etc.) and medical outcomes.

Notes and references

Historic references

  • Lombroso, Antropometria di 400 delinquenti (1872)
  • Roberts, Manual of Anthropometry (1878)
  • Ferri, Studi comparati di antropometria (2 vols., 1881-1882)
  • Lombroso, Rughe anomale speciali ai criminali (1890)
  • Bertillon, Instructions signalétiques pour l'identification anthropométrique (1893)
  • Livi, Anthropometria (Milan, 1900)
  • Fürst, Indextabellen zum anthropometrischen Gebrauch (Jena, 1902)
  • Report of Home Office Committee on the Best Means of Identifying Habitual Criminals (1893-1894)
In art Yves Klein termed anthropometries his performance paintings where he covered nude women with paint, and used their bodies as paintbrushes.


  • (A classic review of human body sizes.)
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