Secular change in long bone length and proportion in the United States, 1800–1970



We examine secular change in long bone lengths and allometry of Americans dating from the mid-19th century to the 1970s. Skeletal samples were derived from the Huntington Collection, Terry Collection, World War II casualties, and the Forensic Anthropology Data Bank. Regression of bone length on year of birth allowed evaluation of the secular change in bone length. Size was computed as the geometric mean of all bone lengths, and shape as the ratio of each bone to size. These variables were then regressed on year of birth, allowing evaluation of allometric secular change. The results revealed a pattern of change that can be summarized as follows: male secular change is stronger than female, lower limb bone secular change is more pronounced than upper limb bone change, and distal bones change more than proximal bones, particularly in the lower limb. In males, white changes are uniformly higher than black but these differences do not rise to the level of statistical significance. Environmental forces, such as nutrition and disease, are the usual causes of secular changes in overall size. This paper shows that long bone proportions also respond to these same environmental factors. Moreover, the changes in body proportion are likely to be due to allometric consequences of growth changes that occur early in life. Am J Phys Anthropol 110:57–67, 1999. © 1999 Wiley-Liss, Inc.