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Modern Humans Far More Robust Than Ancestors 359

Posted by Zonk
from the porky-too dept.
joeljkp writes "The New York Times has an article up discussing how modern humans are 'So Big and Healthy Nowadays That Grandpa Wouldn't Even Know You.' Despite the hyperbole, the article makes several excellent points regarding the impact of antibiotics and modern medicine on humans in their youth. The 'baby boomers' of today have an overall level of health far higher than their parents did in middle age, and reason stands that their children will have even better health to look forward to." From the article: "The biggest surprise emerging from the new studies is that many chronic ailments like heart disease, lung disease and arthritis are occurring an average of 10 to 25 years later than they used to. There is also less disability among older people today, according to a federal study that directly measures it. And that is not just because medical treatments like cataract surgery keep people functioning. Human bodies are simply not breaking down the way they did before. Even the human mind seems improved. The average I.Q. has been increasing for decades, and at least one study found that a person's chances of having dementia in old age appeared to have fallen in recent years."
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Modern Humans Far More Robust Than Ancestors

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  • Increasing IQ's? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Who would have thought it given the current events of the world?
    • Of course. IQ == Idiot Quotient.

      Didn't you get the memo? If you can't fix it, feature it!

    • Who would have thought it given the current events of the world?
      Yeah, today's IQs must be lower because of all these recent inventions like war and terrorism. People in the 60s were too smart to invade countries, and the early 40s were regarded as a time of world peace and harmony.
      • It's simple, if you have a low ethical IQ, and you are irrational/very emotional, then there can be conflicts. Look at people around you, who are the most violent and dangerous types? The emotional irrational unethical types, right?

        The problem with IQ is, we have no ethics IQ test. We also don't do a good job teaching people to be rational. You can be a genius but if you are an irrational genius, you'll make the sort of emotional quick short term decisions that will harm the long term future. If you are irr
    • Don't forget that IQ measures capacity, not utilization.

    • What we really want as humans, are shorter, more miserable lifespans. The only way to have this is to keep doing exactly what we are doing. Yes we did increase the lifespan with modern medicine, at the same time we increased misery levels to the highest they have ever been in history.

      Inequality is higher than ever globally. While slavery has been abolished, starvation and poverty has been increased. While the world is more educated, we are also brilliant suicide artists, constructing the tools and devices o
      • What did you pull out the "misery levels to the highest they have ever been" thing from?
        It might be true, but I'll never know just from reading your post.
        • Well, lets just say the world is so miserable that we are afraid to calculate it. We are afraid to even ask the question. We are afraid to even care about how we feel, how people in the third world feel, or how our children will feel. The world is miserable, how many of us like going to work for 8 hours when we could just as easily be working 4 hours a day? How many of us like to fight for food, water, clean air, and good health when we could all have these things?

          Imagine being born in the third world, and
          • I sometimes wish others saw the issue as you did, whether they agree with that view or not, for one very simple reason, the same reason you stated: We are afraid to know how far we are falling, so we won't ask.

            We believe our culture to be the height of civilization, that our evolution has been a steady process of improvement, that we have gone from single-celled organisms, to brutish beasts, to intelligent beings, and only the higher from there, well, one day maybe we'll ascend and become gods ourselves!

            Bec
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 29, 2006 @02:45PM (#15806826)
    Intelligent design at work :)
  • Speak up! I can't hear you too well these days. My bones creak so loud I can't hear you!
  • I doubt it. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Spazntwich (208070) on Saturday July 29, 2006 @02:46PM (#15806833)
    I think we may have peaked with the baby boomers. They got to ride the wave of new medical advances and didn't have the weight of fast food (har har) holding them back.

    Our generations (current teenagers up to 30-somethings) have grown up with McDonalds and more, and with obesity on the rise with no end in sight, I think we'll begin to see another decline with our generation, with arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease all coming on earlier.
    • Re:I doubt it. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ColdWetDog (752185) on Saturday July 29, 2006 @02:59PM (#15806884) Homepage
      I don't think it's going to be as black and white as this. We're in the midst of an ever changing, ever expanding experiment. Certainly, there are populations that will become increasingly ill (those who survive on fast foods, cigarettes and whose exercise appears to encompass all of walking to their car).

      There are, however, large groups of people that are doing quite the opposite (as described in TFA). We have a better chance to see exactly what keeps people going longer, better.

      As a physician, these are fascinating studies, although I wonder just how good the "data" is from the 1800's. Skimming some of the abstracts from the original data, they use Nasty Statistical Thingys to impute and imply things which always makes me wonder (there's a reason I went into the Biological sciences as opposed to math and physics) how much their working the data to get thier conclusions, but they've stuck to some clever data points to prove the bulk of thier thesis (body mass index which just relies on weight and height).

      Again, we have the potential for creating a much more fined grained dataset if we could ever come up with a consistent language for describing health and disease and come up with a near universal, lifelong, electronic record so that these sorts of issues can be teased out.

      Already, quite a lot of this sort of data is coming from the Scandanavians who 1) have a much less diverse population than the US 2) have had more centralized, coherent and universal medical records than the US.

      So toss the pizza and cigarettes, unplug the computer and take a hike.

      • So toss the pizza and cigarettes, unplug the computer and take a hike.
        Lots of people tell me to take a hike, but from you it sounded friendly!
      • Can't muster the self-discipline to keep yourself in shape and poison-free in a society filled with healthy alternatives, free information about the risks you take, and a gym around every corner? Get your genes outta the pool, bub. :)

        However, it should be noted that the evolution of the mind and the evolution of the body are at odds right now, much more so when you factor in both of the world wars which were just so luckily placed at the crux of vast technological revolutions. Just as brains were becoming a
        • War (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Mark_MF-WN (678030) on Saturday July 29, 2006 @04:45PM (#15807299)
          You may be underestimating the breeding potential of soldiers. Yes, those who die in war don't get to spread their genes around as much at home. But they get a disproportionate number of opportunities to spread their genes around abroad. The number of French children with an American, German, or British daddy after WW1 was astounding. The same goes for British children after WW2, and no small number of German children. Canadian and American vets with an English wife that they met during the war were so common that it's a cliche.

          Women dig out-of-towners, and occupying soldiers are just about the manliest out-of-towners anyone will ever meet. Plus, during an occupation, soldiers typically have the best food, sundries, and other assorted things that are great to have. The point being, it's entirely possible that the drive for war exists precisely because we evolved to wage war as a way of periodically spreading and mixing different gene pools. Just something to think about.

          • The point being, it's entirely possible that the drive for war exists precisely because we evolved to wage war as a way of periodically spreading and mixing different gene pools. Just something to think about.

            Our ancestors fought, but never waged war - that's something only a culture with near-unlimited resources (food, material, and human) can do. But, you are partially correct - periodic skirmishes presented an opportunity to take captives from other tribes and villages and thereby refresh the gene poo

          • Rape (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Gorimek (61128)
            That's all true, but the biggest breeding factor for soldiers historically is rape.

            Traditionally, when conquering a city, soldiers will rape all the women and pillage its riches. This is one of the main attractions of the soldier profession. Killing all the males is optional, but also has obvious evolutionary implications.

            During WW2, certainly the Red Army practiced this to the fullest, and I would guess that it was practiced by more civilized armies more than was publiciced too.
        • Can't muster the self-discipline to keep yourself in shape and poison-free in a society filled with healthy alternatives, free information about the risks you take, and a gym around every corner? Get your genes outta the pool, bub. :)

          You just have to look at the legions of obese parents dragging around obese kids down the chocolate aisle at the supermarket to realise that obesity is not an evolutionary disadvantage.
      • Upon RTFA'ing, I also had some doubts. They seem to be specifically studying extra-stressed populations (war and famine babies) rather than the average for a given era. Conclusion: starvation and disease in childhood increases the chance that you'll be unhealthy as an adult. Well, d'oh!

        I also wondered about data like "in 18nn, NN percent of the population had heart disease". In that era, diagnoses were fairly crude, and often at best wild guesses. What would those people be diagnosed with (if anything) in t
    • Re:I doubt it. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by kfg (145172) * on Saturday July 29, 2006 @03:23PM (#15806984)
      . . .the weight of fast food (har har) holding them back.

      Have you never heard the phrase "greasy spoon"?

      As a baby boomer let me inform you that McDonald's started serving fried burgers because that's where the demand already was. In fact, their food is a damned sight less greasy than was typical in prior times. Many older people go so far as to bemoan the fact that they can't get a properly greasy burger anymore, only that McDonald's crap.

      We used to use butter as a staple. The five gallon can of lard/Crisco could be found in nearly any home's pantry. Fat puddings were revered. Colonel Sanders did not invent fried chicken.

      Don't believe everything you read in the papers. If you'd ever been interviewed by one you'd know they're full of shit.

      KFG
      • Re:I doubt it. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by samkass (174571) on Saturday July 29, 2006 @03:32PM (#15807028) Homepage Journal
        Also: salt. Despite what you hear about salted fries and such, the average human eats VASTLY less salt today than they did 50 or 100 years ago, when salting meat was the primary means of preservation. Today virtually every house has great refrigeration, the foods have better preservatives, and people have an awareness of the dangers of salt on the cardiovascular system.

        That being said, the water and soil pollution, horrible animal farming techniques, and a lack of any new antibiotics or other non-deathbed "wellness" medicine over the past 50 years probably argues in the grandparent-poster's favor.
        • Re:I doubt it. (Score:4, Informative)

          by CptNerd (455084) <adiseker@lexonia.net> on Saturday July 29, 2006 @03:43PM (#15807061) Homepage
          That being said, the water and soil pollution, horrible animal farming techniques, and a lack of any new antibiotics or other non-deathbed "wellness" medicine over the past 50 years probably argues in the grandparent-poster's favor.
          Except for the fact that the air and water are cleaner than they were 50 years ago, and keep getting cleaner. Older, less "horrible" animal farming techniques required cooking meat nearly crunchy just to make sure you didn't get trichinosis and other diseases that more "humanely" treated animals always got.

          • Except for the fact that the air and water are cleaner than they were 50 years ago, and keep getting cleaner.

            I was going to respond this statement, but then I remembered what inevitably happens when you argue with morons on the internet....
            • Actually that is probably true in a lot of places especially in developed nations. Modern analytical techniques have become exquisitely refined to the point where parts per trillion can be routinely detected, and understanding of toxicology is far better leading to better pollution control. Some of the worst environmental disasters occured in the era of the 'Silent Spring' and earlier - the London smogs in the 1950's killed thousands of people.

          • air and water are cleaner than they were 50 years ago

              What information are you basing that statement on? Everything I've read and observed shows exactly the opposite.

              BTW, one can cook meat thoroughly enough to kill parasites without making it "crunchy" (as any hunter knows). Sustained temperatures above ~160F for a certain period of time will kill nearly all parasites or disease organisms, extremely high temperatures or overcooking is not required.

            SB
          • Re:I doubt it. (Score:3, Informative)

            by samkass (174571)
            Except for the fact that the air and water are cleaner than they were 50 years ago, and keep getting cleaner. Older, less "horrible" animal farming techniques required cooking meat nearly crunchy just to make sure you didn't get trichinosis and other diseases that more "humanely" treated animals always got.

            Firstly, I said water and soil. The air is definitely cleaner because we replaced a lot of coal with natural gas, cleaned up a lot of power plants, and destroyed our steel industry and sent it overseas.
        • Also: salt. Despite what you hear about salted fries and such, the average human eats VASTLY less salt today than they did 50 or 100 years ago

          I agreed people use & eat much less salt today than 50-100 years ago. But your concept of time is a bit off. 100 years ago would be 1906. In 10 years the first World War starts.

          "Alexander Twining began experimenting with vapor-compression refrigeration in 1848 and obtained patents in 1850 and 1853. He is credited with having initiated commercial refrigeration i
      • As a baby boomer let me inform you that McDonald's started serving fried burgers because that's where the demand already was.

        I doubt there was ever a golden age where everybody ate healthy food all the time. But I think it's cheaper and more convenient now, so we just eat more often. (I can't believe Wendy's can sell a junior cheeseburger deluxe for $1, the industry is a marvel of efficiency). Perhaps the bigger factor is that people historically used their bodies a lot harder. That kept them thin,

      • They may have eaten puddings and greasy burgers, but how often? Today people eat sugary cereal every morning, have five cups of coffee with three sugars in, eat a giant greasy burger with a giant portion of fries for lunch, then a giant sugary greasy dinner and a giant sickly pudding. EVERY SINGLE DAY.
      • "We used to use butter as a staple. The five gallon can of lard/Crisco could be found in nearly any home's pantry. Fat puddings were revered. Colonel Sanders did not invent fried chicken."

        Your veggies ain't properly done unless cooked up with some salt pork, old world style.

        --
        BMO
        • Right on! Green beans aren't green beans without a healthy dose of bacon mixed in! And who here would even consider eating some heavily boiled (forget steaming, that's for filthy hippies) broccoli without an equal part of cheez sauce? No one who's a full-blooded American patriot, that's for sure!

          Give me liberty, or give me death! (The cholesterol makes sure of that!)
    • Ithink we may have peaked with the baby boomers. They got to ride the wave of new medical advances and didn't have the weight of fast food (har har) holding them back.

      White Castle [wikipedia.org] was selling burgers for a nickel in 1921.

      But the american fast food menu would be recognizable to any working class kid born 1850-1890. He wouldn't know pizza or tex-mex, of course.

    • I'm 26 and I eat McDonalds about once per year. I eat mostly veggies, whole grains, and chicken (grilled or baked, not fried). Too bad I have a defective gene that causes my body to produce too much bad cholesterol and not enough good cholesterol. Heart disease has plagued my mothers side of the familly - her dad passed away when she was 12 from a massive heart attack, and many of her uncles suffered a similar fate. The defect has been traced back to and ancestor back in France I believe (or maybe it
  • Diabetes (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Frankie70 (803801) on Saturday July 29, 2006 @02:52PM (#15806854)
    I think it's well documented that Diabetes (type 2 - NIDDM) is appearing
    at a much younger age than before.
    • Hey (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Mark_MF-WN (678030)
      Hey, with modern advances in insulin pumps, prosthetic feet, and scooters, it'll be no big deal! I hope to start marketing a scooter that's basically designed as motorized wheelbarrow. It will be sold with a free prying bar and some barrow-lube to help people remove themselves from the scooter when they get to their couch.
    • The reason for that is obvious: the age of obesity (the principle cause of type-2 diabetes) has been creeping downward, until now it's rare to see a child in NORMAL weight.

      When I was a kid (1960s), there was never more than one obese child in any school. In the 1980s, we started seeing a large proportion of late-teens who where chubby. By around 2000, most early-teens were chubby. Now, many grade-schoolers are morbidly obese (over 50% of their body mass is fat) -- and they're the norm, not the exception.

      Wit
    • If we did not want diabetes to appear, we would cure it. Diabetes is profitable, so we want it. Having diabetes increases world misery, it's profitable, and we don't care about health or aging. So why would we cure anything?

      I'm sure there are some individuals here who do want cures for diabetes, cancer, and other diseases, and I'm sure these diseases could be cured if we wanted to cure them. It's a matter of will, if we put hundreds of billions into it, it would be cured.

  • Arthritis (Score:3, Interesting)

    by zymano (581466) on Saturday July 29, 2006 @02:56PM (#15806872)
    We would have even less arthritis if people didn't buy into jogging as some health benefit. It just kills your joints.
    • When I was a sophomore in HS, 1984, one of the coaches who taught phys. ed. told us why jogging was bad. I think jogging peaked in the 1970s. When I was in college, I joined the running club and kept at it until I realized my knees weren't cut out for long distance--but nobody in the running club intentionally jogged. We all strived for an efficient, smooth, long-distance pace. Oh, and shoes have become hi-tech marvels compared to what was worn just 30 years ago. I didn't stop exercising, I switched to

    • Re:Arthritis (Score:3, Informative)

      by elleomea (749084)
      "We would have even less arthritis if people didn't buy into jogging as some health benefit. It just kills your joints."

      Most common forms of arthritis are either caused by an immune system malfunction (causing the immune system to attack otherwise healthy joints) or by an infection. Jogging is a high impact exercise, and as such if you already suffer from arthritis it may accelerate the disintgration of the joints but it does not cause arthritis. The high impact nature of jogging is one of its main adva
    • Nothing wrong with jogging as long as its done on a softer surface, Concrete is just simply a no no! I jog on sand and its the best surface to exercise on. The ground is soft and the instability causes your legs to work harder, failing that, just rollerblade which is faster, burns the same amount of calories and doesn't kill the joints.
  • by msauve (701917) on Saturday July 29, 2006 @02:57PM (#15806877)
    what I believe is likely the real reason.
    Life was just plain a lot harder then.
    It's as simple as that. We've moved from an agrarian society to an industrial one to a service economy. Life is easier. No more scythes or plowing with a horse. No more mining coal with pick axes. No subsistance farming or clearing new fields by hand (unless you want to, I suppose). People are more educated about what's healthy and what's not, no more mercury based patent medicines, or blood letting with leaches.
    The article has it half right - modern medicine play a large part, but I believe the major effect is because it's able to recognize and address the true nature of ailments, not because it's making the human body more robust. That is, it's a remedial effect more than a prophylactic one.
    • actually leaches and maggots are great for medicine.. leaches are applied to keep gangrene from forming by keeping blood flowing and maggots accelerate the healing of wounds by eating the dead tissue.
    • I'm sure life is easier than it was 100 years ago, but only because we're no longer in the middle of an industrial revolution. Fewer sweat shops and other dangerous jobs with long hours.

      But if you compare today with "pre-westernized" America, then life now seems much more difficult that it used to be. No 60 hour work weeks doing the same pointless tasks. No bills, cars, credit cards to worry about. Daily work consisted of feeding the family. There was much more free time, and I would think there was more "l
  • Skeptical (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Demona (7994) on Saturday July 29, 2006 @02:58PM (#15806881) Homepage
    Are there any credible reasons to believe that humans in general are growing physically stronger and more durable, rather than overreliance on technology (in particular, antibiotics) actually having the opposite effect?
    • compare average lifespan of european to that of a century ago, then two centuries ago, then three. Thus far the benefits to individual are outweighing the negative consequences of pollution, poiosons and even antibiotics. That may be changing as we speak, as super-resistant strains of bacteria have been found in hospitals (though it's worth noting those germs have been a problem for hospitals for over two hundred years.) Anyway, we actually know what to do to make things better now as far as poisoning ou
  • Great News (Score:4, Informative)

    by Moby Cock (771358) on Saturday July 29, 2006 @03:04PM (#15806903) Homepage
    No if we could only find a healthy environment for all these healthy people to life their long lives in...
  • by thebigo195 (949864) on Saturday July 29, 2006 @03:11PM (#15806939)
    It's entirely possible that the overall average is an all-time constant 100 but that people being tested in recent years have consistently beaten the historical average.
  • by Asmor (775910) on Saturday July 29, 2006 @03:13PM (#15806948) Homepage
    Does anyone else feel a strong urge to smack those smarmy bastards who are so convinced that drugs and chemicals and such are making us weaker?

    "Ooh, but the cavemen didn't have glut--"

    "Fuck the cavemen. They were chased by saber-toothed tigers and lucky to live to the age of 20."

    I say pump me full of drugs, corporate America!
  • by ArielMT (757715) on Saturday July 29, 2006 @03:15PM (#15806951) Homepage Journal
    The average I.Q. has been increasing for decades

    And it took less than one decade for the average IQ to drop below that of a rock.

    Hello, tech support? The cupholder on my PC is broken. ... Yes, the cupholder. ... Yes, it does... Or did... It broke just after I opened and ran that Microsoft virus patch you sent me in email, although it ended up in my junk folder for some reason. ... Whaddayumean what? I had to disable the virus scanner because it said your patch was a virus.

    *Sigh*

    • Re:Increasing IQ? (Score:2, Informative)

      by chudnall (514856)
      The average I.Q. has been increasing for decades


      Actually, it has stayed the same. By definition, the average I.Q. is always 100.
  • Completely retarded, and they stay that way as they get older. Increasing IQ my ass.
  • ...many new illnesses are striking these healthy new people but they're being made to think it's normal. Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, inexplicable depression, various systemic yeast infections resulting in a wide array of symptoms... All on the rise. But that's OK because now there's the "purple pill", or Zoloft, or even Viagra. There are a whole host of things the older generations did right and those things are being forgotten. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater
    • ...many new illnesses are striking these healthy new people but they're being made to think it's normal. Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, inexplicable depression, various systemic yeast infections resulting in a wide array of symptoms What makes you think those diseases are "new"? Yes, we've defined them more carefully - it's not the "flux" anymore. Yes, we have some better treatments (the purple pill, etc.). But read the history of medicine - these problems have been around a
  • by erroneus (253617) on Saturday July 29, 2006 @03:44PM (#15807064) Homepage
    From what I've read so far the information is relative to the US only. There is other information about European areas as well, but I wonder what there is to know about Asia and areas that are significantly less developed?

    I have noted in the past that I seem to be a lot more healthy than just about everyone else I know. My health increases further as I avoid certain foods such as milk, bread and pasta.... things with excessive processing and preservatives. But those things didn't exist in the same form "back in the day." So I think there has to be more to it.

    I have to assume part of what I experience is linked to the community in which I live, but still... if I am not an anomoly, then there's even more improvement that can occur.
  • I will wrap up TFA...

    Americans and Europeans of today, who have health insurance, are bigger, fatter, and healthier than people who were too poor pay their way out of conscription during the Civil War.

    Boo War!

    Hooray Health Insurance!

  • by ztucker (938031)
    they work for Wal-Mart. Then they have neither the insurance to cover nor the income to afford the drugs and treatments mentioned.
  • by kingkongrevenge (588009) on Saturday July 29, 2006 @04:18PM (#15807200)

    The article talks only about how health has improved over the last few hundred years. This is almost entirely due to nutrition and sanitation. The article fails to mentions the much more interesting point that we are probably still less healthy than our ancestors of 2000 years ago. Hunter-gatherers are on average taller than Americans today, and there has never been a documented hunter-gatherer cancer death. Read accounts of the original Spanish explorers in the Carribean and Florida. They saw how much taller and healthier the hunter-gatherer tribes were.

    http://www.agron.iastate.edu/courses/agron342/diam ondmistake.html [iastate.edu]
    http://www.paleodiet.com/lindeberg/ [paleodiet.com]

    The ideal human diet is high in meat and animal fat. For the last several hundred years "civilized" humans have been highly reliant on grains and short on quality fats and proteins, which has been disasterous for human health. Only in the last hundred years has meat and fat consumption risen to reasonably healthy levels in wealthy countries. The effects of increased meat and fat intake was clearly documented in post-war UK and Japan, where deliberate efforts to raise egg and dairy consumption had dramatic effects on heart disease and general health.

    • by An Onerous Coward (222037) on Saturday July 29, 2006 @07:06PM (#15807771) Homepage
      Well, I was going to point out the numerous articles linking diets high in animal fats to strokes, heart attacks, cancer, diabetes, etc. But your link to a non-peer-reviewed article by an author who uses all his footnotes to quote his own research totally set me straight. Screw this vegetarian stuff, I'm gonna go eat me a cow or two.

      Of course, in order to create enough meat to feed everyone a basically carnivorous diet, we'd probably need to quintuple our agricultural output, with all the associated environmental problems.

      Finally, Jared Diamond said exactly what I expected him to say. Rather than attributing the poor health of agricultural societies to a lack of meat in the diet, he attributes it to three other factors. First, agrarians ate a less varied diet. Second, there were more people living closer together and trading diseases. Third, because of the previous two factors, it was much rougher on a society when a single crop failed.

      So, no, I'm not buying this whole "we need to eat more meat" line you're selling.
  • by jeffsenter (95083) on Saturday July 29, 2006 @04:51PM (#15807333) Homepage
    One thing this article misses is the impact of the industrial revolution on health. People are healthier today than they were 150 years ago or even 75 years ago, yes. The 19th and early 20th century had people in the industrialized world in rather unhealthy conditions with quite poor diet. The real question is looking at the health of people century by century over the last 10,000 years in a variety of places and cultures. Changes in medicine, population patterns (rural to urban) and diet have changed health, but not in the ways implied by this article.

    Consider disease.
    Antibiotics and modern medicine have changed disease in a big way. However, how common were major wide-spread outbreaks of disease 5000 years ago? The flu of 1918 and the plague of the Middle Ages were widespread because of increased travel and contact among peoples compared to say in 1500 BC. AIDS is a modern example of a disease that has spread quickly globally today, which would not have reached many populations in earlier times. People's in Western Hemisphere were almost totally isolated until 500 years ago. Australia as well was isolated.
    Diseases brought from Europe such as small pox were the primary cause of the annihilation of the indigenous peoples of the Americas. Native American peoples had no immunity to such diseases.
    Some diseases such as polio and small pox were common 1000 years ago and have been all but eliminated today, but probably were not so common in 3000 BC. Other diseases that have been eliminated such as leprosy seem to have a long history in some populations, but probably not all.

    Consider nutrition.
    In modern times people in the industrialized world by and large never want for calories. Excess calorie consumption is a far greater public health threat than lack of calories. However, this is not true world wide as famine kills hundreds of thousands in Africa in particular.
    500 years ago, a lack of abundance of calories at some point during a person's life was fairly common globally. Also, poor nutrition from an unbalanced diet was far more common in Europe 500 years ago than today. Poor nutrition is a major problem today in South Asia and other areas.
    How was the diet of peoples around the world in 2500 BC? Because the world was far less populated then, nutrition on average may well have been better than in 1500 AD.
    The diet of woodlands Native Americans 600 years ago was probably as balanced as the diet of modern US residents. This was not necessarily true of the Native Americans of Central America, who relied more heavily on corn agriculture.

    Much of this information on disease and nutrition can be ascertained from looking at skeletal remains.

    One thing we do know from archeology: humans today are generally larger than they have been over the past 10,000 years. This is probably because of an abundance of calories throughout their lives, although reductions in disease may also be a factor.
  • As a society we *rely* on technology.. When was the last time the average guy had to go build some shelter and go kill the evening meal? I think as a individual we are less 'robust' then our ancestors.
  • My gawd, look at the people around you, and then see THIS movie:

    The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition (2001)

    http://movies.yahoo.com/movie/preview/1808403906 [yahoo.com]

    Do you think any of the people around you, including yourself, might survive such a thing? I seriously doubt it. The mental toughness to do that doesn't exist anymore and those tough enough to do such things are supported by high technology instead of simple woolen clothing, a sailing ship, dogs, and a talented ship's carpenter (wh
    • I call bullshit. Modern humans excel in many feats of endurance such as rowing a boat across the Atlantic ocean, running a marathon at advanced age, marathon swimming and so on. One of the most impressive to me was the solo ascent of Everest without oxygen by Reinhold Messner in 1980.

  • From a technical point of view, reliance upon "vaccines and antibiotics" does not a "robust" system make. A robust body should be able to heal itself without the complexities of external support. I was a little surprised to see that the primary dictionary definition of robust [reference.com] referred specifically to human health. But then you scroll down and you see the "jargon" definition that I describe above.

    It's just another example of a word that can mean the opposite of itself.

    (Another example is "Certain foods ar

  • The article forgot to mention "In western countries...".

    I know a fair bit of people who look much older than their age and people who cant get medicine for any of their diseases.

    Someone please add this to the article submission system in slashdot:

    UPDATE ARTICLES SET TEXT = 'In America, ' + TEXT;
  • Prior generations had to labor from dawn to dusk at tasks that were often debilitating and dangerous. When I was younger, I remember seeing the toll such work had had on older people I encountered. In my area, tuna fishermen would have gnarled hands from a lifetime of mending nets. People who had labored at such things as ditch digging or construction were stooped and arthritic. I seldom see these signs of a life of toil these days.
  • by Mistshadow2k4 (748958) on Saturday July 29, 2006 @06:47PM (#15807696) Journal
    My European ancestors tended to live to be around 40, but my Native American ancestors tended to live to 75 years and beyond -- one Cherokee great-great-great-grandmother lived to be 107. Native Americans truly did tend to live longer, but I don't see many studies on it, despite the fact that this pretty well-known. Why, I don't know. But I can guess some of the reasons they lived longer: better eating, more excercise, and most espceially, not a smany chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes in their bloodlines.
  • by jc42 (318812) on Saturday July 29, 2006 @07:41PM (#15807909) Homepage Journal
    We might note that this is a gratuitous mis-use of the term "robust", which is a well-known technical term in anthropology. It has nothing to do with state of health. It's basically a measure of bodily weight relative to height.

    Thus, the Neandert[h]al (sub)species was "robust", the invading Cro Magnon people were "gracile". In common English speech, more common terms might be "stocky" versus "slender".

    Ordinarily this wouldn't matter. But we're dealing with a topic in which the technical terminology is relevant. Using the technical term in some vernacular sense is understandable, but it's misleading. And it's likely to lead to dismissal by people knowedgeable in the subject.

    You'd think that we'd want to avoid this in a forum that consciously targets "nerds" and "geeks" (two more technical terms that the public uses very differently).

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