Health and Aging in the Very Long Term: An Interim Report of the OSU European and Global Health Projects

Presented by Clark Larsen and Richard Steckel on Oct. 28, 2011 at the Center for Historical Research at The Ohio State University.

The public health community has long been interested in research on the subjects of violence, degenerative conditions, infectious and metabolic diseases, impacts of the environment on health, inequality and health, and childhood origins of adult disease. However, nearly all of the research on these themes has been conducted on relatively modern societies, that is, populations that have lived or are living in the industrial age, or in the past one or possibly two centuries. One might think that populations living in poor developing countries meet the diversity challenge but even they have been influenced in varying degrees by the modern world, including its products, technology, pathogens, and political structures. Scientists know that diversity in the circumstances under which events occur, including health challenges, is desirable for discovering underlying relationships and measuring them with precision. On these grounds medical researchers should welcome the study of health outcomes generated by the wide range of ecological and socioeconomic conditions that have existed since the Neolithic Revolution. We surmise that many if not most of these researchers, however, are unlikely to know how this might be done and therefore have given the idea little thought. This application explains and gives examples of how the diversity of the human experience over the millennia can be brought to bear on modern public health concerns, and how this effort might engage medical researchers. Our specific aims are to:

  • Explain the research value of skeletal remains.
  • Explain the importance of contextual information
  • Apply the study of skeletal remains and their context to public health problems.
  • Engage the medical profession in the research of this application.

The Ohio State University Center for Historical Research in the Department of History provides a stimulating intellectual environment for studying important historical issues around the world. Each year the Center brings together scholars from various disciplines to examine issues of broad contemporary relevance in historical perspective.