Early Maturity, Shortened Stature, and Hardship: Can Life-history Trade-offs Indicate Social Stratification and Income Inequality in the United States?

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Objective: Life-history strategies promote reproductive fitness and survival. Limited energy availability and competing energetic demands between life-history decisions may result in organismal trade-offs leading to selection for “optimal” traits that facilitate fitness and survival in present environmental conditions. Few life-history analyses have been conducted in food abundant/high resource human populations. Here, we use a life-history theory framework integrated with a biocultural approach to assess whether trade-offs between growth (height) and the onset of reproductive maturation (ages at menarche) were observed in a sample of adult women living in the United States

Methods: Adult women (18 years and older) from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2005 to 2006 were analyzed using complex survey regression to evaluate associations between ages at menarche, height, and biological, socio-economic, demographic, and anthropometric variables.

Associations between stature, ages at menarche, and socio-economic status (household income and education level) suggest life-history trade-offs in this populations may be mitigated by access to resources and marginalization.

Conlusions: These study results have applied public health implications. We demonstrate that females who experience early menarche in the US population achieve short stature. Our study also demonstrates the need for implementing life-history analyses in Western affluent populations, where marginalization may result in life-history trade-offs.

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American Journal of Human Biology, v. 31, issue 5, art. e23283