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Is there an influence of modern life style on skeletal build?




Modern human life style has led to significant decrease in everyday physical activity and bipedal locomotion. It has previously been shown that skeletal robustness (relative elbow breadth) is associated with daily step counts. The aim of the study was to investigate whether also other skeletal measures, particularly pelvic breadth may have changed in recent decades.


We re-analyzed elbow breadth, pelvic breadth (bicristal), and thoracic depth and breadth, of up to 28,975 healthy females and 28,288 healthy males aged 3–18 years from cross-sectional anthropological surveys performed between 1980 and 2012 by the Universities of Potsdam and Berlin, Germany.


Relative elbow breadth (Frame index) significantly decreased in both sexes since 1980 (<0.001). The trend toward slighter built was even more pronounced in absolute and relative pelvic breadth. In contrast, equivalent changes of parts of the skeletal system that are not involved in bipedal locomotion such as thoracic breadth, thoracic depth, and the thoracic index were absent.


The present investigation confirms the decline in relative elbow breadth in recent decades. Analogue, but even more pronounced changes were detected in pelvic breadth that coincides with the modern decline in upright locomotion. The findings underscore the phenotypic plasticity of humans while adapting to new environmental conditions. Am. J. Hum. Biol. 26:590–597, 2014. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.