Applying evolutionary anthropology.
Bottom Line: Here, we present the argument that evolutionary anthropological studies of human behavior also hold great, largely untapped, potential to guide the design, implementation, and evaluation of social and public health policy.Focusing on the key anthropological themes of reproduction, production, and distribution we highlight classic and recent research demonstrating the value of an evolutionary perspective to improving human well-being.We are hopeful that these developments are underway and that, with the current tide of enthusiasm for evidence-based approaches to policy, evolutionary anthropology is well positioned to make a strong contribution.
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Mentions: Across the developing world, labor-saving technologies are designed and introduced specifically to improve community health and well-being. Evolutionary anthropological studies have been instrumental in demonstrating that such schemes may also have unintended demographic consequences. In a natural experiment provided by the recent arrival of village-level water-tap stands in Arsi Oromo villages in Southern Ethiopia, Gibson and colleagues explored how a reduction in the time and effort women spend collecting and carrying water (Fig. 1) affected the timing of births, deaths, and out-migration in 2,000 households over 15 years. Consistent with predictions from evolutionary life-history theory, Gibson and Mace77 demonstrated that the arrival of taps directly led to higher birth rates and shorter birth intervals. In the absence of modern contraception, energy was, in effect, diverted away from work collecting water and into higher birth rates. This indicates a bio-behavioral response to changing energy availability. This response is likely to represent an evolved feature of our reproductive physiology, allowing humans to defer reproduction during periods of energy shortage.21 Similar links between new labor-saving technology and increased birth rates have also been identified among Mayan women using grain mills in Mexico.76