Last May, Science Magazine featured a review of a recent study of human health going back some 10,000 years. Surprisingly, perhaps, our state of health has been declining generally over the last 3,000 years, coinciding essentially with the broad adoption of agriculture. The trends are not subtle, apparently. Statures have shrunk, and there was an increase in skeletal lesions, tuberculosis, and leprosy. People started living closer together, and in more intimate contact with livestock—the formula for increases in contagion in general, and of animal-to-human viral transfer in particular.
The switch to grain-based diets had further consequences for dental health, with cavities and tooth loss becoming more of a problem. Vitamin deficiency diseases such as rickets and scurvy became more prevalent during the Dark Ages. This trend only began to be broken in the middle of nineteenth century, presumably due to increased trade, better sanitation, improvements in medicine, and better weather after the Little Ice Age. Since the 1950′s, however, the overall trend has once again been downward, and this is showing up even in trends in stature, which can be taken as a kind of integrative index to health status.