Human Evolution: How We’ve Changed Over the Past Century

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We’ve gotten taller, fatter, and older, according to a story in LiveScience which outlines human evolution over the past century. How could we have changed so much in the past 100 years? Many factors are at play but it’s largely due to nutrition, hygiene, and health services.

“A big take-home point of all current studies of human evolution is that culture, particularly in the form of medicine, but also in the form of urbanization and technological support, clean air and clean water, is changing selection pressures on humans,” Stephen Stearns, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale University told Live Science.

According to a recent study of British recruits, human evolution has meant the average height has increased a good 4 inches since the turn of the century, for example, and it’s largely due to all the criteria listed above. This is also true in the Netherlands, which currently has the tallest average height of 6’1. While Americans were the tallest people in the world by World War II, they’ve fallen behind. Other nations have caught up, like residents of former East Germany, who have caught up to West Germany in height.

And everyone is getting fatter, whether it’s due to a lack of exercise or calorically dense convenience foods, researchers aren’t completely sure. But globally, obesity has nearly doubled since 1980. In 2008, according to the World Health Organization, more than 1.4 billion adults, 20 and older, were overweight.

Girls are also maturing faster. Earlier puberty could also be due to childhood obesity which has also surged. In the mid-1800s-1960s girls got their periods at the average age of 17 and today the average age is 12-13 years old.

And finally, the average life expectancy has shot up from 30 years old at the turn of the century to 70 in 2012 globally. WHO predicts that life expectancy could jump to 85 for women by 2030. Monaco currently has the oldest life expectancy at 87.2 followed by Japan and Andorra. The U.S. comes in 35th at 79.8 and the nation with the worst rating is Sierra Leone at 47.5. But overall we’re vastly taller, fatter, and older–the good and the bad taken into account.

Related on EcoSalon

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The Longevity Revolution

 Image: John Atherton