Department of Biology

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Henrik Balslev

Food, Populations and Health — global Patterns and Challenges: Proceedings of an Interdisciplinary Symposium on the Dynamics from Prehistory to Present

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  • Lars Jørgensen, Denmark
  • Niels Lynnerup, Denmark
  • Anne Løkke, Denmark
  • Henrik Balslev (Editor)
The present volume is based on presentations at a symposium at the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters in September 2014 with the title Food, Population and Health – global Patterns and Challenges. Food has played a fundamental role in the history of all societies over the World. Availability and abundance of food has been crucial for the health and subsequently for the wealth of societies. In the first section Bothmer points out that agriculture began about 10 000 BP and that the first domesticated crops were grasses that subsequently underwent migration and adaptations and finally were subject to modern plant breeding. Palm demonstrates that the Swedish population in the early modern period was growing rapidly and that the average food consumption of an adult Swede around 1630 was at least equivalent to 2500 calories a day. Because migration and trade are important for developing and providing food products, knowing their provenance is important and the latest technology in that context is the use of strontium isotope tracing as shown by Frei. In a section on mortality and prevalence of diseases from food in historic and prehistoric populations Atkins explains how bovine spongiform encephalopathy and tuberculosis have been passed on from animals to humans through food. Larsson traces the Swedish outbreak of smallpox and dysentery in the 18th century and Revuelta-Eugercios discusses the promises of individual level data analysis on a mass basis as approach to socioeconomic and gender differences in mortality during nineteenth century urbanization. Castenbrandt discusses which sources and methods could make it possible to grasp how morbidity has changed while life expectancy has increased since the mid nineteenth century. In a section on variations in human height Boldsen challenges the common comprehension that more economic wealth automatically results in taller people by analyzing gender differences and different epidemiological regimes. In the same context Öberg points out that the height increase and the longevity increase most likely share some underlying causes but they have also been affected by unique unshared factors. Given that extended breastfeeding has proven to be effective to keep relative low levels of infant mortality in poor economic and hygienic environments, Løkke suggests that infant mortality in prehistorical populations, in some times and places, may have been as low as in nineteenth century Scandinavian low infant mortality regions. Gardarsdóttir demonstrates how increased breastfeeding in Iceland during 1850–1920 reduced infant mortality, but was still viewed with scepticism by many mothers. Based on the Dutch experience of famine 1944–45 Lumey discusses the health effects later in life of under-nutrition in the womb. The dynamics between food, health, population size and economy was the subject of Larsen, who showed how — over prehistoric and historic times — diets have changed, and also that the proportions of energy-rich and more nutritious foods have affected human health. In the same context Harris focuses on 18th and 19th century England with emphasis on the relationship between food availability and height, health and economic development. In a chapter on identification of diet and changes in food culture, Nyvang presents an analysis of 753 cookbooks published in Denmark between 1616 and 1970, and demonstrates how history has involved changes in author groups reflecting large societal transformations. The final chapter by Hastrup wraps up the content of the symposium in the context of Global Food Security, referring to the UN lead concern about food on a Global scale. Two final appendices describe the rich resources available at the Danish National Museum for studying food and its importance in prehistoric and historic contexts
Original languageEnglish
Place of publicationCopenhagen
Number of pages185
Publication statusPublished - 2016
SeriesScientia Danica. Series H, Humanistica, 8

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