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Evol Med Public Health. 2016 Oct 2;2016(1):325-337. Print 2016.

The blemishes of modern society? Acne prevalence in the Dogon of Mali.

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Department of Anthropology & Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA



Non-communicable diseases may reflect an evolutionary mismatch between our human ancestry and modern environments. To explore the mismatch hypothesis for Acne vulgaris, we studied the prevalence and severity of acne in Dogon adolescents in Mali, West Africa.


We graded the prevalence and severity of acne in 1182 Dogon adolescents aged 11-18 years from nine villages using facial photos taken as part of a prospective cohort study. Eighty-nine (89%) of the individuals in the cohort migrated to the city during adolescence, enabling us to assess the effect of urban migration. Using multivariable logistic regression, we estimated the effect of predictor variables on the presence of acne.


The prevalence of acne in the cohort was 28%, with 90% of cases being mild or very mild. Thus, the prevalence and severity of acne was much lower than for adolescents in high-income countries. Controlling for age, puberty, and body mass index (BMI), the odds of boys developing acne was 85% lower in the city than in the villages (P = 0.002).


Acne is similar to the 'diseases of civilization' in being promoted by the pro-inflammatory properties of modern diets. The low prevalence and severity of acne in the Dogon supports the mismatch hypothesis and suggests that acne should join the list of diseases of modern lifestyles. However, we also observed an unexpected decrease in acne in urban boys. Future research is needed for a deeper mechanistic understanding of the interplay between diet, inflammation, immune function and other environmental exposures that differ between urban and rural environments.

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