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The key role of nutrition in controlling human population dynamics

  • C.J Duncan (a1) and S Scott (a1)
Abstract

The early hominids and their successors, the nomadic hunter–gatherers, were evolutionarily adapted to an omnivorous diet. Their food was well balanced nutritionally and they acquired adequate supplies with relatively little expenditure of energy. The complete change to a fixed agricultural lifestyle (the Neolithic revolution) took place only some 12 000 years ago and was the most momentous event in human history. Being tied to the land that they worked led eventually to the city states and the great civilisations of history, which brought with them wars and epidemics of infectious diseases. Much more serious were the insidious effects of the new cereal-based diet which persisted until the twentieth century. Not only was it labour intensive, but also for the bulk of the population it was often deficient in vitamins, minerals and energy, particularly at certain times of the year. Time-series analysis reveals a regular short wavelength oscillation in the grain supply that persisted for at least 350 years and dominated the population dynamics of pre-industrial England. In addition to reducing fertility, it acted primarily via its effects on the nutrition of the pregnant woman. Malnutrition during one of the critical trimesters of pregnancy could have far-reaching effects not only on the health of the fetus and neonate but also on the illnesses of later, adult life. These consequences were insidiously and inevitably carried forward to the subsequent generations. Girls who were born with a low birth weight produced daughters and granddaughters of low birth weight, irrespective of their nutrition during childhood. These intergenerational, knock-on effects established a vicious circle from which there was little chance of escape.

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Corresponding author
*Corresponding author: Dr Susan Scott, fax +44 151 795 5116, email sscott@liverpool.ac.uk
References
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Nutrition Research Reviews
  • ISSN: 0954-4224
  • EISSN: 1475-2700
  • URL: /core/journals/nutrition-research-reviews
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