The emergence of biomedical anthropology and its implications for the future

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Abstract

Primarily during the past 15 years a distinct new area within physical anthropology has emerged, biomedical anthropology. Physical anthropologists have become heavily involved in studying problems of relevance to the health and illness patterns of living humans.

There has been a proportionate increase in biomedically focused papers published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, in biomedically focused papers presented at annual meetings of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, and in physical anthropology doctoral dissertations oriented toward modern biomedical phenomena. Proportionately more physical anthropologists are now employed in medical schools and there has been recent growth in the proportion of physical anthropologists in anthropology departments who claim some aspect of biomedical anthropology as a research interest. Increasingly, physical anthropologists are focusing their research on cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in America.

These distinct trends are partially a result of the nature of physical anthropology and its unique biocultural perspective. However the growth of applied anthropology, the present academic marketplace, and the availability of research funds are probably also contributing factors.

The emergency of biomedical anthropology holds promise for the future of physical anthropology and for its current employment crisis. Careers with academic and nonacademic organizations engaged in biomedical research appear to be a viable alternative to careers in departments of anthropology, for biomedical anthropologists. This will entail some reorientation of graduate training for physical anthropologists. More emphasis will have to be placed on substantive biomedical subjects, research methods, and data management and analysis.

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