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M Protsiv, C Ley, J Lankester, T Hastie and J Parsonnet
Abstract
In the US, the normal, oral temperature of adults is, on average, lower than the canonical 37°C established in the 19th century. We postulated that body temperature has decreased over time. Using measurements from three cohorts–the Union Army Veterans of the Civil War (N = 23,710; measurement years 1860-1940), the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey I (N = 15,301; 1971-1975), and the Stanford Translational Research Integrated Database Environment (N = 150,280; 2007-2017)–we determined that mean body temperature in men and women, after adjusting for age, height, weight and, in some models date and time of day, has decreased monotonically by 0.03°C per birth decade. A similar decline within the Union Army cohort as between cohorts, makes measurement error an unlikely explanation. This substantive and continuing shift in body temperature-a marker for metabolic rate-provides a framework for understanding changes in human health and longevity over 157 years.
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