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In comparative cross-species perspective, humans experience unique physical impairments with potentially large consequences. Quantifying the burden of impairment in subsistence populations is critical for understanding selection pressures underlying strategies that minimize risk of production deficits. We examine among forager-horticulturalists whether compromised bone strength (indicated by fracture and lower bone mineral density, BMD) is associated with subsistence task cessation. We also estimate the magnitude of productivity losses associated with compromised bone strength. Fracture is associated with cessation of hunting, tree chopping, and walking long distances, but not tool manufacture. Age-specific productivity losses from hunting cessation associated with fracture and lower BMD are substantial: ~397 lost kcals/day, with expected future losses of up to 1.9 million kcals (22% of expected production). Productivity loss is thus substantial for high strength and endurance tasks. Determining the extent to which impairment obstructs productivity in contemporary subsistence populations improves our ability to infer past consequences of impairment.


This article was originally published in eLife, volume 9, in 2020.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.