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Am J Phys Anthropol. 2006 Sep;131(1):127-36.

Craniofacial dimensions in children in rural Oaxaca, southern Mexico: secular change, 1968-2000.

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  • 1Department of Mathematics, Physics, and Engineering, Tarleton State University, Stephenville, Texas 76402, USA.


The objective of this investigation was to analyze the underlying cause(s) of secular changes in craniofacial dimensions among indigenous children in an isolated community in Oaxaca, southern Mexico, between 1968-2000. Subjects were schoolchildren resident in a rural, agrarian, Zapotec-speaking community in the Valley of Oaxaca, previously characterized as mildly-to-moderately undernourished with growth-stunting in 1968 and 1978. In 2000, children had experienced a secular increase in height compared with two prior growth surveys. Four craniofacial dimensions (head length, head breadth, and bizygomatic and bigonial breadths) were measured during anthropometric surveys of schoolchildren aged 6-13 years in 1968, 1978, and 2000. Cephalic and zygomandibular indices were calculated. Samples by survey were: 1968, 151 males and 157 females; 1978, 179 males and 184 females; and 2000, 180 males and 186 females. The analysis was based on a total of 1,037 children. Multivariate analysis of covariance was used to assess secular trend effects, with height, age, and age2 as covariates by sex. Over the interval of 32 years, significant secular changes occurred in craniofacial dimensions and one index: 1) head length was shorter in boys and girls; 2) bizygomatic breadth was narrower in boys and girls; 3) head breadth increased over time only among girls; 4) brachycephalization increased significantly in a linear manner among both sexes; and 5) the zygomandibular index decreased significantly only in boys. Thus, the cranial complex remodeled to a shorter head length, both relatively (brachycephalization) and absolutely. Remodeling over time also resulted in a narrower face, with the midface changing at about the same rate as the lower face (i.e., mandible). Secular changes are generally recognized as multifactorial. Changes in the cephalic index and cranium over time in schoolchildren in an isolated rural agrarian Zapotec-speaking community in the Valley of Oaxaca suggest that the underlying forces for the secular change are associated: 1) decreased food (maize) coarseness or grit content (masticatory stress), and 2) relaxed natural selection, resulting in 3) a greater role for developmental plasticity.

2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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