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Old November 16th, 2012, 02:19 PM   #1

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How healthy were people historically?


I always imagined people of history (be it 200 years ago, or 2,000 years ago, and be they rich or poor) as being of poor health and poor nutrition, and I was always thankful that I live in a land of doctors and hospitals. But I have been wondering if that is actually the case.

For example I read about the Pintupi Nine (the last Aboriginal Tribe to be found by white people in 1984), and they were described by a doctor as being in beautiful physical condition. Also when I see other people of primitive technology on TV they often have beautiful white teeth and look (on the outside at least) to be very healthy.

So this led my thoughts to people throughout history (who likewise lived with lower technology, no doctors, via their own labour etc). Were they unhealthy, or were they like the primitive peoples we see today?

What do you think? I am sure such a question has many answers depending on the variables.
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Old November 16th, 2012, 03:00 PM   #2

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As far as the teeth are concerned - the products of the modern food industry are less healthier than food from the past.
Regarding general health, I guess that those who were seriously ill simply died, thus leaving more of the living ones in good health.
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Old November 16th, 2012, 03:09 PM   #3

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The great pain for the Human beings was the Neolithic revolution.

Agriculture allowed the feeding of large populations, but these populatons were very unhealthy.

It is proved that a dramatic drop on physical health took place between the Paleolithic and the Neolithic stages, the later peoples being way shorter, weaker and unhealthy.
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Old November 16th, 2012, 03:15 PM   #4

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Quote:
Originally Posted by RusEvo View Post
I always imagined people of history (be it 200 years ago, or 2,000 years ago, and be they rich or poor) as being of poor health and poor nutrition, and I was always thankful that I live in a land of doctors and hospitals. But I have been wondering if that is actually the case.

For example I read about the Pintupi Nine (the last Aboriginal Tribe to be found by white people in 1984), and they were described by a doctor as being in beautiful physical condition. Also when I see other people of primitive technology on TV they often have beautiful white teeth and look (on the outside at least) to be very healthy.

So this led my thoughts to people throughout history (who likewise lived with lower technology, no doctors, via their own labour etc). Were they unhealthy, or were they like the primitive peoples we see today?

What do you think? I am sure such a question has many answers depending on the variables.
Is this a trick question?

Standards change over time, if you were healthy in the middle ages you were young, you were fit and you had all your teeth and you were old by the time you were 36.

If you were lucky you were famous or you had good family so people would support you when you were gumming on bread with milk, potato soup or rice mush.

Otherwise you were screwed and it was time for the monasteries charity hospital.
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Old November 16th, 2012, 03:26 PM   #5

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Quote:
Originally Posted by RusEvo View Post
I always imagined people of history (be it 200 years ago, or 2,000 years ago, and be they rich or poor) as being of poor health and poor nutrition, and I was always thankful that I live in a land of doctors and hospitals. But I have been wondering if that is actually the case.

For example I read about the Pintupi Nine (the last Aboriginal Tribe to be found by white people in 1984), and they were described by a doctor as being in beautiful physical condition. Also when I see other people of primitive technology on TV they often have beautiful white teeth and look (on the outside at least) to be very healthy.

So this led my thoughts to people throughout history (who likewise lived with lower technology, no doctors, via their own labour etc). Were they unhealthy, or were they like the primitive peoples we see today?

What do you think? I am sure such a question has many answers depending on the variables.
There is something to keep in mind about people in the past, which is that they needed to be very strong just to survive to adulthood. Today, infant mortality rates are low, but in the past they were common. So, seeing a healthy adult picture from the past also indicates who lived and who didn't.
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Old November 17th, 2012, 06:02 AM   #6

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Today, infant mortality rates are low, but in the past they were common..
In 19th century UK the odds on you reaching your 18th birthday was 50:50.
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Old November 17th, 2012, 06:09 AM   #7

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tion. Also when I see other people of primitive technology on TV they often have beautiful white teeth and look (on the outside at least) to be very healthy.s.
There has been a trend in modern films and drama to portray poor people living in the Middle Ages as having bad teeth, this is a mistake while they would not have been as white and perfectly straight as most modern actors have them, the majority of their teeth would have been healthy.
It wasn't until sugar became widely available that tooth decay became a major health problem
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Old November 17th, 2012, 06:43 AM   #8

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Teeth decay began to be a problem with the adoption of agriculture during the Neolithic (...surprise!, really, what an age of drawbacks). Crops with high content on carbon hidrates can cause teeth decay. But, it's true that massive decay was more common during modern age due as you explained.

Whatever the case, before the recent introduction of healthy habits, a common problem was dental calculus, which led to loosing teeth. And this problem could be massive

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Old November 17th, 2012, 06:56 AM   #9
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People were roughly as healthy as anyone these days, as long as they kept it up. And then they might be unlucky and suffer an infectious disease, or inattentive and suffer some wound getting infected, and THEN for a lack of modern medicine, survival might be touch-and-go, and even if they lived the effects might still be crippling.

Then you might get physical labourers literally having worn their bodies out well before 40, and nasty effects of intermittent, sometimes prolonged, starvation periods. That would seem to have touched all walks of life at some point.

And we know infections of pregnant mothers can cause nasty birth defects. Lack of antibiotics for instance historically has caused statistically significant higher rates of deaf children being born, and that's one of the simpler problems. Herpes, rubella, strep infections and a slew of things beside can do this.
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Old November 18th, 2012, 06:02 AM   #10

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I think Petyo is dead on. Today, the world strives to save the weak and dying to show that humans can overcome natural science. What we are left with is an abundance of genetic defects which lead to people who would have been deemed unhealthy. Charles Darwin's ideas of survival of the fittest would have been more applicable centuries ago than it is today. Sick people died, the healthy survived.

I have nothing against people who are ill, with any number of medical issues, that's just how it is. I'm not sure if society is better for it or not.
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