The word anthropometry comes from the Greek words anthropos, meaning “man,” and metron, meaning “measure.” Anthropometry is a branch of the social science of anthropology dealing specifically with measuring the human body. Such a study can be undertaken to understand the relative proportions of the body under various conditions, as well as to understand the range that is possible for human beings. The field is also referred to as “anthropometric measurement.”
The measurements included in anthropometry range from the large-scale to the small, and may involve static and dynamic measurements. Standard measurements may include weight; standing and sitting height; the length of the upper arm and leg; the circumference of the arm, waist, hip, and thigh; the breadth of the body at several points, and skinfold measurements. These measurements are taken with the body in specified positions so that they may be compared across time and from person to person.
Anthropometry data is collected for a variety of reasons. It can assist in the study of the relationship between diet, nutrition, and health. It can assist in understanding the relationship between obesity and disease and in the prediction of who may be at risk for certain diseases, such as adult-onset diabetes mellitus, arthritis, cancer, cardiovascular disease, gallstones, and hypertension. Data is also used to revise the child growth charts that pediatricians use to determine if children’s height and weight are within the normal range.
Anthropometry is an element in the Fels Longitudinal Study, a project of the Fels Research Institute that began in 1929. The study focuses on the areas of physical growth and maturation, as well as body composition and feature examinations that continue from birth through adulthood. Fels participants are measured according to a testing schedule that focuses on developmental stages and major changes.
Anthropometry also has other applications, such as in ergonomic workplace design. It uses static, or structural, anthropometry measurements and dynamic, or functional, anthropometry measurements in the design of equipment and furnishings that are likely to be usable by the most people and adjustable, if the characteristics of the user are too broad or cannot be easily specified.
Ergonomic solutions may also take into account such information as gender differences and body morphology, and combine this information with anthropometric measurements in coming up with designs. The effects of changing conditions such as time of day, age, and pregnancy may also be taken into account. Wheelchair anthropometrics is a specialized subfield.