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Agriculture around 10,000 yrs ago led to decline in height, health of people

June 16, 2011 - Washington

An anthropology student has concluded that when populations around the globe started turning to agriculture around 10,000 years ago, regardless of their locations and type of crops, a similar trend occurred: The height and health of the people declined.

"This broad and consistent pattern holds up when you look at standardized studies of whole skeletons in populations," said Amanda Mummert, an Emory graduate student in anthropology.

"Many people have this image of the rise of agriculture and The Dawn of modern civilization, and they just assume that a more stable food source makes you healthier," explained Mummert.

"But early agriculturalists experienced nutritional deficiencies and had a harder time adapting to stress, probably because they became dependent on particular food crops, rather than having a more significantly diverse diet," added Mummert.

She adds that growth in population density spurred by agriculture settlements led to an increase in infectious diseases, likely exacerbated by problems of sanitation and the proximity to domesticated animals and other novel disease vectors.

While the review further supports the link between early agricultural practices and declining stature and health, it's important to keep re-evaluating the data as more studies are completed, said Mummert.

"One confounding factor is that agriculture was not adopted in an identical fashion and time span across the globe. In some ancient societies, such as those of the North American coasts, crops may have merely supplemented a seafood diet. "In these cases, a more sedentary lifestyle, and not necessarily agriculture, could have perpetuated decreased stature," added Mummert.

The study will be published by the journal Economics and Human Biology.


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