Research ArticleANTHROPOLOGY

Rapidly declining body temperature in a tropical human population

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Science Advances  28 Oct 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 44, eabc6599
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abc6599

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Normal human body temperature (BT) has long been considered to be 37.0°C. Yet, BTs have declined over the past two centuries in the United States, coinciding with reductions in infection and increasing life expectancy. The generality of and reasons behind this phenomenon have not yet been well studied. Here, we show that Bolivian forager-farmers (n = 17,958 observations of 5481 adults age 15+ years) inhabiting a pathogen-rich environment exhibited higher BT when first examined in the early 21st century (~37.0°C). BT subsequently declined by ~0.05°C/year over 16 years of socioeconomic and epidemiological change to ~36.5°C by 2018. As predicted, infections and other lifestyle factors explain variation in BT, but these factors do not account for the temporal declines. Changes in physical activity, body composition, antibiotic usage, and thermal environment are potential causes of the temporal decline.

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