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Secular Changes in the Postcranial Skeleton of American Whites

NCJ Number
Human Biology Volume: 88 Issue: 1 Dated: Winter 2016 Pages: 65-75
Date Published
11 pages
This study examined secular changes in long bone lengths and proportions, their allometric relationship to stature, and cross-sectional properties of long bone shafts.

Secular change in height has been extensively investigated, but size and shape of the postcranial skeleton much less so. The availability of large, documented collections of nineteenth- and twentieth-century skeletons makes it possible to examine changes in skeletal structure over the past 150 years. In the current study, bone measurements and stature were organized into 10-year birth cohorts, ranging from 1840 to 1989. Variation among cohorts was tested by one-way ANOVA, and secular trend was examined visually by plotting mean measurements by birth decade. Allometry was examined by regressing log bone lengths onto log stature, using least squares regression. Allometry was also examined using the geometric mean of log bone lengths as the size variable. All bone lengths and stature showed positive secular change. Stature and the distal long bones showed the most pronounced changes. Proportions also changed, as revealed by the brachial and crural indices. Both indices increased, but the brachial index change was the most pronounced. Allometric relationships suggest that brachial index changes result from positive allometry of the radius and negative allometry of the humerus. Similar but less marked allometric relationships were found in the tibia and femur. Long bone shaft properties changed in the following ways: femur midshafts and tibia shafts at the nutrient foramen became more mediolaterally narrowed, and the femur became more mediolaterally thickened at the subtrochanteric level, approaching platymeria. All major long bones became more gracile. These remarkable changes in the postcranial skeleton are a response to the unparalleled changes in the environment in which modern Americans now live. Changes in growth resulting from plentiful and secure nutrition, reduced disease load, and marked reduction in bone loading from reduced activity levels are mainly responsible. (Publisher abstract modified)

Date Published: January 1, 2016