This May Nobel Prize winner Robert W. Fogel will publish “The Changing Body: Health, Nutrition, and Human Development in the Western World Since 1700”. The publication is the culmination of three decades of research with co-authors, Roderick Floud, Bernard Harris, and Sok Chul Hong on the influence of nutrition and technology on recent physiological changes to humans in the Western World. Armed with an extensive amount of data on “childhood growth, mortality, adult living standards, labor productivity, food and manufacturing output”, Fogel has theorized that our technological improvements have caused an unprecedented change in our size and longevity; a physiological change that far surpasses typical Darwinian evolution.
The New York Times published a more thorough article summarizing Mr. Fogel’s publication. The article quotes the authors as stating, “in most if not quite all parts of the world, the size, shape and longevity of the human body have changed more substantially, and much more rapidly, during the past three centuries than over many previous millennia.” These astounding changes that have taken place are a testament to not only our current state of nutrition and medicine, but from a broader perspective, the trajectory of human progress that we often take for granted. Despite pervasive inequality of wealth throughout the past three hundred years, these changes would not have taken place if advancements in technology, medicine, nutrition, and social structure did not effect the average individual on the most basic day to day level, demonstrating that change is positively effecting people as a whole.
As an example of the physiological changes that have taken place, during the mid 19th century the average adult male weighed roughly 146 pounds, stood at 5’7 and was expected to live until 45. By the 1980’s the same demographic was expected to reach 75 years old, weigh 174 pounds and stand at 5’10. According to Samuel H. Preston, a demographer and a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania, “without the 20th century’s improvements in nutrition, sanitation and medicine, only half of the current American population would be alive today.”