Photo: Rex Turgano (Flickr)
About 10,000 years ago, human populations around the world figured out that they could grow crops and raise animals. Instead of always being on the move, chasing game and gathering plants, they could stay in one place and settle down.
And you might think that this more stable sort of existence would lead to better health. But you’d be wrong.
According to many studies, the rise of agriculture coincided with declines in human height and overall health.
Theories abound. One of the most persuasive is the notion that an agricultural lifestyle is generally less healthful than a hunting and gathering one. Hunter gatherers, for example, ate a wide variety of food basically anything they could find–while in early agricultural societies, people came to rely on only a few types of food, leading to nutritional deficiencies.
Also, in agricultural settlements people lived packed together in larger groups, and among domesticated animals, setting the stage for unsanitary conditions that often led to disease.
Eventually, as human agricultural societies became better organized and sanitation improved, the trend reversed.
Human height rose on average, and people began living longer and enjoying overall better health. More recently, over the past 75 years, industrialized food systems have improved health and nutrition in the developing world.
But we modern humans are still dealing with some of the same problems as our prehistoric agricultural ancestors. We tend to rely too much on corn, rice, and wheat for the bulk of our calories. And it’s widely believed that the types of foods we eat, combined with our largely sedentary lifestyles contribute to obesity, diabetes, and many other health problems.