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Anthropometric differences between the two Koreas are of considerable public and scientific interest given the unique socio-political status of North Korea and the fact that the nations share the same genetic ancestry. This study provides new biosocial evidence on these differences by analysing mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC) as a human welfare indicator. This is the first study to compare the nutritional status of adults surveyed inside North Korea with South Koreans. The MUAC measurements of 2793 North Korean women obtained through a household survey conducted in 2002 were compared with those of 1428 South Korean women surveyed around 2003. Comparative analysis was conducted by plotting centiles and calculating mean differences in MUAC by age. This paper finds that the MUAC of the South Koreans was on average 2.8 cm greater than that of their North Korean peers, with MUAC gaps ranging from 1.6 cm to 3.9 cm and becoming more pronounced with age. This research confirms previous studies on height and weight in the two Germanies and in the two Koreas that have shown that biosocial performance is worse in socialist economies as compared with free-market regimes.

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Journal of Biosocial Science
  • ISSN: 0021-9320
  • EISSN: 1469-7599
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-biosocial-science
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