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[image, unknown] In your body there are 24 different elements. These include hydrogen and oxygen combining to form water, which accounts for two-thirds of your body weight.1
The average human body contains:

  • 40 litres of water
  • 200 bones
  • 7.5 metres of intestines
  • 1,400cc of brain capacity
  • 1,000 billion cells
  • 600 muscles
  • a nose that can identify up to 10,000 different odours1
  • Skin is your largest organ, weighing 3.25kg. Peeled off it could occupy about 1.9 sq metres (20 sq ft). Even after you have finished with it, there's plenty: 90% of house-dust consists of dead skin.2


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The richer the country the longer its people's bodies tend to last. But this is not always the case - provision of state-funded healthcare is another crucial factor. It means that people living in a 'poor' country like Costa Rica may enjoy a higher life expectancy than those living in a 'rich' country like the US. Average life expectancy by country and GNP per capita3

An adult body needs a calorie intake of between 2,350 and 2,600 calories per day, depending on climate and kinds of work performed.

People in industrialized countries generally consume far more calories than their bodies need - calorie intake in Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Britain, Canada and the US ranges from 124% to 138% of needs.

People in several poor countries generally consume less than their bodies need - calorie intake in Mozambique, Angola, Somalia and Rwanda ranges from 77% to 82% of needs.

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Ireland 157% Greece 151% Belgium 149% Ethiopia 73% Chad 73% Afghanistan 72%
Calories per head as percentage of requirements3

Bodies are changing from generation to generation - in some parts of the world faster than others.

[image, unknown] Tall - Australian primary school children are on average 1.25cm taller than their predecessors were in 1972, and in Scotland they are 5cm taller. The Japanese are also growing, putting on a few centimetres with each generation.4

Wide - In the US people are putting on weight but not getting taller. Middle-aged obesity is a medical problem in a number of rich countries.5

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15% women,
12% men
9% women,
6% men
9% women,
9% men5

But the overall trend is that human bodies have been shrinking for the past 200,000 years, with a sharp downturn - in brain size as well as height - after the last ice age 10,000 years ago.4

The biggest killers in 1996:
[image, unknown] Infectious diseases and parasites took 17 million lives. Most prevalent were respiratory diseases, tuberculosis, malaria and diarrhoea.

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Circulatory diseases such as heart diseases and stroke, claimed 15 million lives.8
Water: the majority of the world's population still lacks adequate sanitation, creating conditions for infectious diseases to spread. In sub-Saharan Africa only 42% of people have access to safe drinking water. Healthcare: many people still lack access to healthcare - 34% in sub-Saharan Africa and 26% in Latin America and the Caribbean. 9

The clothes we put on our bodies provide the fashion industry with huge profits - and are linked to some of the most exploitative labour conditions in the world.

US basketball star Michael Jordan earned $20 million in 1992 for endorsing Nike shoes - more than Nike's 30,000-strong Indonesian workforce did making them.

Disney Corporation's Pochahontas shirts sell at $10.97 each and are made by workers in Haiti who earn just $10.77 a week for making 375 shirts an hour. 7


[image, unknown] There's a lot of money to be made from notions of what bodies 'should' be like.
In the US, for example:

  • The cosmetics industry is worth $20 billion.
  • The cosmetic-surgery industry is worth $300 million.
  • The diet industry is worth $33 billion, accounting for a third of the nation's food bill. 6

1 The Human Body, Diamond Reference, London 1994.
2 Ninety Per Cent of Dust, video by Mandeep Dillon, Oxford Video makers.
3 The State of the World's Children Report 1997, UNICEF, New York.
4 Elle magazine, September 1997, London.
5 State of Health Atlas, Judith Mackay, Simon & Schuster, 1993.
6 The Beauty Myth, Naomi Woolf, Chatto and Windus, 1990.
7 No Sweat, ed. Andrew Ross, Verso, 1997.
8 The State of World Health Report 1997, WHO, Geneva.
9 The State of World Health Report 1995, WHO,

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New Internationalist issue 300 magazine cover This article is from the April 1998 issue of New Internationalist.
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