4

votes

What does evolutionary medicine say about having children?

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created September 24, 2010 at 4:56 PM

On one hand, many paleo thinkers/writers acknowledge that our population grew to this extent only by a combination of a grain-based diet and modern medicine (that is, antibiotics and such) - and are at the same time environmentally aware enough to acknowledge the footprint left by each added human being.

On the other hand, many paleo folks forego hormonal or chemical methods of birth control - and also advocate a very hands-on parenting approach, including attachment parenting and/or extended breastfeeding, etc. - and of course feeding kids paleo, which has its own related expenses. (Imagine paying to feed a handful of teenaged boys grass-fed beef!)

So what does the evolutionary medicine philosophy have to say about what might constitute the ideal number of kids? Have you all integrated paleo principles in your thinking about what size family you do or might have one day? Obviously this is somewhat subjective, but I'm curious to read all philosophies and related commentary.

Aa69579f867333b08158c70e25f7daf1

(1826)

on September 16, 2011
at 05:30 PM

I always hated the "lawn" of the average American household. Grow some vegetables, people! :-) My husband and I would like to have several more children, but our footprint is much smaller across the board. (We even use cloth diapers and we share one car for the whole family.)

Aa69579f867333b08158c70e25f7daf1

(1826)

on September 16, 2011
at 05:28 PM

Melissa, your comment that "I would probably be let go from my job" were you to have children is disturbing to me. It's ILLEGAL for an employer to make employment decisions based on pregnancy or whether or not you have children. Granted, you would have to deal with childcare issues. But you couldn't be fired just for having children!

Cfccbcf3450ac4919311ded8ef162d49

(2312)

on September 27, 2010
at 08:02 PM

do we really need any paradigm (besides our own individual set) to test if a change can improve our quality of life?

77732bf6bf2b8a360f523ef87c3b7523

(6157)

on September 27, 2010
at 01:39 PM

It's not that you have to discover "The Paleo Diet" to figure out that barefoot is better than expensive Nike's. It's what Melissa said above: Paleo is really about looking at health from an evolutionary paradigm -- at least, that is the way some of us look at it. Even if you swore off shoes and fluoride-based toothpaste before you ever heard of Paleo, the Paleo or evolutionary paradigm allows us to make hypotheses and predictions that we can test to see if certain adjustments can improve our health/quality of life.

Cfccbcf3450ac4919311ded8ef162d49

(2312)

on September 27, 2010
at 04:16 AM

I've lived my life this way before I discovered eating paleo, so for me, no it hasn't directly impacted my life besides the way I eat. That said, I've always tried to live a pretty clean, simple existance.

1f70da0b737e9c6e7679a248f4228a01

on September 26, 2010
at 02:58 AM

There is data that supports the opposite of your conclusion - that women who have never given birth are more susceptible to certain diseases. I remember reading about observational data suggesting breast cancer is more common in women who have never had children. The cause isn't clear, and it may just be an association, but perhaps those findings are just around the corner... But in the meantime, I'd rather do my best to avoid those diseases through paleo practice rather than create another 'mouth' to draw on the Earth's resources until I can be sure we will return the favour (farming, etc).

1f70da0b737e9c6e7679a248f4228a01

on September 26, 2010
at 02:53 AM

This lines up with what my response would be. If you live in a self-sustained community, then having a couple of kids that will take your role in the community once you are no longer able to fulfill it is fine. But if you're a metro family and having kids is going to mean more space and resources will be needed to sustain you, then you should think twice. I see that much of the overpopulation in the third world relates to the food donations from the first world allowing unsustainable population growth. Kids should sustain the cycle of life, not cause additional burden.

77732bf6bf2b8a360f523ef87c3b7523

(6157)

on September 25, 2010
at 04:43 PM

Paleo doesn't have any impact on sleep, exercise, avoiding environmental toxins, sunshine exposure, footwear, chairs?

9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on September 25, 2010
at 05:23 AM

esp since most of them are probably related to you...

6fa48935d439390e223b9a053a62c981

(1676)

on September 25, 2010
at 01:43 AM

Yeah, but in an all-ages band of 20-30 (or so) people, how many options would there be?

21fd060d0796fdb8a4a990441e08eae7

(24543)

on September 25, 2010
at 01:23 AM

The original post did not frame paleo as a dogmatic/religious concept. Note the language used and the breadth of opinion sought. Just because the number of kids one chooses is a personal matter, doesn't mean that it isn't strongly related to our health and genetic propensity. I prefer to use my Jump to Conclusions Mat for more obvious posts!

Cfccbcf3450ac4919311ded8ef162d49

(2312)

on September 25, 2010
at 01:18 AM

Kamal, "paleo isn't just diet" because the people that eat a paleo diet often do share similar thoughts in other areas of life. That doesn't mean every aspect of life needs to be considered "paleo." But, often people post as if paleo were a religion with a specific set of doctrine, which if not followed will lead to some sort of eternal condemnation. OK, that's a little exaggerated, but hopefully you get my point.

21fd060d0796fdb8a4a990441e08eae7

(24543)

on September 25, 2010
at 01:10 AM

In other words, Berkeley, circa 1969? Yeah, polyamory sounds okay in that context.

21fd060d0796fdb8a4a990441e08eae7

(24543)

on September 25, 2010
at 01:09 AM

In other words, Berkeley, circa 1969? Yeah, polyamory sounds okay in that context

21fd060d0796fdb8a4a990441e08eae7

(24543)

on September 25, 2010
at 01:04 AM

In other words, Berkeley, circa 1969? Yeah, polyamory sound okay in that context.

9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on September 25, 2010
at 12:57 AM

Kamal, you should check out Sex at Dawn. Lemme tell you that if I were a HG in a STD-free society where having a child isn't a bad thing, I would be plenty promiscuous :)

21fd060d0796fdb8a4a990441e08eae7

(24543)

on September 25, 2010
at 12:34 AM

You may not want to waste time with those men, but they want to waste time with you. Paleo man and paleo woman probably differed quite a bit in their sexual promiscuities. There's an article around that I may be able to find on this.

21fd060d0796fdb8a4a990441e08eae7

(24543)

on September 25, 2010
at 12:19 AM

W8liftinmom-- paleo is not just diet, or else crossfit/movnat/etc wouldn't come up so often. paleo is not just diet and exercise, or else the impact of paleo on your relationships wouldn't come up so often. In a very circuitous way, I'm saying that paleo even more useful when it's interpreted broadly as "natural" and "healthy" things to do based on how we've evolved.

9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on September 25, 2010
at 12:13 AM

This is not really a paleo question since plenty of paleo people aren't even interested in having children since it's a diet. But evolutionary medicine does have a lot to say on the subject and EM is very much related to paleo. I don't have children and won't for some time if ever, but this interests me. By the time a HG woman was my age she might have had several children- this would have affected her body very much!

9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on September 25, 2010
at 12:10 AM

well the diet doesn't, but viewing health from an evolutionary paradigm allows us to get some ideas about certain problems plaguing modern women. I will rephrase the question.

Cfccbcf3450ac4919311ded8ef162d49

(2312)

on September 25, 2010
at 12:08 AM

I'd give more "thumbs-up" ratings but can only give you one. Really, what would eating a paleolithic diet have to do with the number of children we have. It's not a religion, it's not a cult.

93f44e8673d3ea2294cce085ebc96e13

(10502)

on September 24, 2010
at 11:27 PM

@Kat -- you missed the point about my comment wrt eating Paleo as a religion.

4b97e3bb2ee4a9588783f5d56d687da1

(22913)

on September 24, 2010
at 09:30 PM

Is that higher risk because of not having kids or because of chemical birth control methods?

93f44e8673d3ea2294cce085ebc96e13

(10502)

on September 24, 2010
at 09:22 PM

Good point. Knew this but forgot about it. Will upvote.

9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on September 24, 2010
at 09:06 PM

Women who have never had children have a higher risk of certain illnesses. Greater than one is probably optimal from an evolutionary perspective.

93f44e8673d3ea2294cce085ebc96e13

(10502)

on September 24, 2010
at 09:00 PM

I will reluctantly re-open the question - but my guess is that this thread will devolve into something entirely off-topic and nonsensical. Please don't make me regret my decision.

D30ff86ad2c1f3b43b99aed213bcf461

on September 24, 2010
at 07:25 PM

Kamal is right about my question's angle - I wanted to see some arguments from natural capability to reproduce v. social dictates v. sustainability issues - balanced discussion from a variety of voices, even with peer-reviewed article citations if there were any on offer. Also, there are lots of reproductive health questions, kid-raising and family questions, questions about environmental issues on PaleoHacks - that are all open and showing activity, so I had no prior indicator that this would be considered off topic.

21fd060d0796fdb8a4a990441e08eae7

(24543)

on September 24, 2010
at 07:06 PM

This is interesting, with regards to how many kids is natural to have, versus many are typically had in your society, versus your sustainability preferences.

8564091e3cf82ea53843c0dbcf57857a

(990)

on September 24, 2010
at 06:31 PM

Why was this closed? There's tons of info out there about proper spacing of children, at what age is best for women to start having kids, what age is 'too late' etc. How many kids we should have is not always a decision based on religion.

93f44e8673d3ea2294cce085ebc96e13

(10502)

on September 24, 2010
at 06:25 PM

Eating Paleo is NOT A RELIGION.

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6 Answers

2
9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on September 25, 2010
at 12:27 AM

The bible on this is Ancient Bodies, Modern Lives and despite it being an evolutionary medicine rather than a paleo book (many intersections, a few differences since em is mainly an academic movement whose authors don't generally eat paleo per se), it's very much worth reading. I keep meaning to post more about it, but think about this: I am 24, at 24 the average hunter-gatherer might have had 1-2 children, some of whom might have not survived infancy. Either way, my body would have been altered by the pregnancy, birth, and breast feeding. In some ways good, others bad. In general, there are some cancers that are tied to not having children or having them late in life. There are other conditions it may affect as well, such as bone density.

Is it realistic for me to have children at 19 like a hunter-gatherer from a social perspective? Not unless I decide to join a religious sect like the Hasidic or Amish. I suspect mediation of these problems will have to come from modern medicine rather than us deciding to revamp our culture to allow 20 year olds to have children. Yes, it would be evolutionary appropriate and probably beneficial to my body to have children now, but like most 24-year-olds I don't have enough money and I would probably be let go from my job.

Growing up religious, I was told that sex before marriage was not "real sex." "Real sex" was between two married people who didn't use birth control. I thought that was bunk even then. But as I've experienced EXTREMELY negative effects from hormonal birth control and given that honestly, sex with plastic isn't as good as unprotected...maybe that's a little right. I'm glad I'm not married to the first guy I dated like some of my Christian friends, but I'm not going to do the hookup thing either. Since I decided that I do care about my biological clock, I'm no longer going to waste time with men who aren't looking to have children in the next five years.

6fa48935d439390e223b9a053a62c981

(1676)

on September 25, 2010
at 01:43 AM

Yeah, but in an all-ages band of 20-30 (or so) people, how many options would there be?

21fd060d0796fdb8a4a990441e08eae7

(24543)

on September 25, 2010
at 01:10 AM

In other words, Berkeley, circa 1969? Yeah, polyamory sounds okay in that context.

21fd060d0796fdb8a4a990441e08eae7

(24543)

on September 25, 2010
at 12:34 AM

You may not want to waste time with those men, but they want to waste time with you. Paleo man and paleo woman probably differed quite a bit in their sexual promiscuities. There's an article around that I may be able to find on this.

21fd060d0796fdb8a4a990441e08eae7

(24543)

on September 25, 2010
at 01:04 AM

In other words, Berkeley, circa 1969? Yeah, polyamory sound okay in that context.

9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on September 25, 2010
at 12:57 AM

Kamal, you should check out Sex at Dawn. Lemme tell you that if I were a HG in a STD-free society where having a child isn't a bad thing, I would be plenty promiscuous :)

21fd060d0796fdb8a4a990441e08eae7

(24543)

on September 25, 2010
at 01:09 AM

In other words, Berkeley, circa 1969? Yeah, polyamory sounds okay in that context

9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on September 25, 2010
at 05:23 AM

esp since most of them are probably related to you...

Aa69579f867333b08158c70e25f7daf1

(1826)

on September 16, 2011
at 05:28 PM

Melissa, your comment that "I would probably be let go from my job" were you to have children is disturbing to me. It's ILLEGAL for an employer to make employment decisions based on pregnancy or whether or not you have children. Granted, you would have to deal with childcare issues. But you couldn't be fired just for having children!

2
Ae011d9f1c8654ea66854ca2a977c397

(1165)

on September 24, 2010
at 11:23 PM

I'm reading a book on the Ju/Wasi right now. They have 3 kids usually spaced 4 years apart. Their kids go on long gathering missions with the women and the women have to carry those too young to walk so that might explain the gap between kids.

2
127116e41acceee9f2f000076f8b788d

(477)

on September 24, 2010
at 05:59 PM

I know a lot of people are going to jump at me for this, but overpopulation is not the biggest issue. Resource management is the real issue. Many developing countries have serious population growth problems, but even with that growth, their resource consumption is an order of magnitude lower than developed countries like the US, that are barely growing in population.

So, the real issue is how to we sustain a high quality of life without enormous resource consumption.

Now, don't get me wrong, population growth must be managed as well. My personal belief is 2 kids per couple. That ensures a decrease in population because many people choose not to reproduce.

My family (one kid, one on the way) also lives completely off-grid and we produce the majority of our own food on our property with little inputs from the outside. Our footprint is very small, and our resource consumption is minuscule.

Feeding teenagers is not that difficult is they are the ones producing the food! :)

1f70da0b737e9c6e7679a248f4228a01

on September 26, 2010
at 02:53 AM

This lines up with what my response would be. If you live in a self-sustained community, then having a couple of kids that will take your role in the community once you are no longer able to fulfill it is fine. But if you're a metro family and having kids is going to mean more space and resources will be needed to sustain you, then you should think twice. I see that much of the overpopulation in the third world relates to the food donations from the first world allowing unsustainable population growth. Kids should sustain the cycle of life, not cause additional burden.

Aa69579f867333b08158c70e25f7daf1

(1826)

on September 16, 2011
at 05:30 PM

I always hated the "lawn" of the average American household. Grow some vegetables, people! :-) My husband and I would like to have several more children, but our footprint is much smaller across the board. (We even use cloth diapers and we share one car for the whole family.)

1
62ed65f3596aa2f62fa1d58a0c09f8c3

(20807)

on September 25, 2010
at 05:38 AM

I think from a survival of DNA perspective, which is ultimately the most prehistoric, having as many as possible starting as soon as possible if the most natural way. ASAP would have been around 12 or so back before puberty started happening so early. Nature made girls ready to have birth at this time and that is when they probably started back then. Survival of the DNA was more important than long life of the mother. Of course, both is best, but childbirth comes with risks, so in the end, having lots of kids had to take high priority. But paleo eating now is not about exact replication of exact lifestyles of the paleo area. I don't carry a spear and I don't plan to churn out children either. Paleo eating ideas are not the same thing as being a replica of paleo life. In many issues paleo living can be used as a guideline for what is probably most healthy, but not in ALL situations and not in every aspect of life. Having children is hard on the mother, even if it is good for DNA survival.

DNA survival has been important for almost all of history, but now we are in very new situation of the world being basically too full of people. So the situation is not the same as it was in the paleo and paleo rules don't so easily apply. From a logical and global perspective, I think we really need the overal birth rate to be a bit under replacement value, so as to slowly shrink the overall population a bit. We are currently overstraining the Earth and the healthy food supply. Of course, this may change if we colonize other words, find new ways to make healthy food, etc.

I think this will happen naturally as in an agricultural environment, many children are useful workers on the farm, or tending flocks, or whatever, but in an overcrowded citylike environment, children cost money but contribute little financially. THeir only benefit is emotional. So more families naturally will choose to have just one or two, or maybe even none. There will be some families who prefer more, but they will be counterbalanced by some who choose to have none. Also, we are seeing the societal structure and culture also shift away from such an emphasis on kids. Used to be, it was expected that peopel would marry and have kids by around 20. Now we see many advising that 'there is no rush..'

And from a health perspective of the individual mother, physically, it's hard on the mother to have children and even today, there is a risk of injury or death in childbirth. So if the question is health, I have seen some evidence that mothers are less healthy in the long run than nonmothers and no evidence to the contrary. This toll is probably minimized if mothers live a healthy lifestyle, but probably it is not totally eliminated. Interestingly, I was not able to find any mortality data on woman who have been mothers vs mothers who have not been mothers.

1f70da0b737e9c6e7679a248f4228a01

on September 26, 2010
at 02:58 AM

There is data that supports the opposite of your conclusion - that women who have never given birth are more susceptible to certain diseases. I remember reading about observational data suggesting breast cancer is more common in women who have never had children. The cause isn't clear, and it may just be an association, but perhaps those findings are just around the corner... But in the meantime, I'd rather do my best to avoid those diseases through paleo practice rather than create another 'mouth' to draw on the Earth's resources until I can be sure we will return the favour (farming, etc).

1
93f44e8673d3ea2294cce085ebc96e13

(10502)

on September 24, 2010
at 09:02 PM

So what does the paleo philosophy have to say about what might constitute the ideal number of kids?

Viewing nutrition, health and diet through an evolutionary lens says close to nothing about the ideal number of kids.

21fd060d0796fdb8a4a990441e08eae7

(24543)

on September 25, 2010
at 12:19 AM

W8liftinmom-- paleo is not just diet, or else crossfit/movnat/etc wouldn't come up so often. paleo is not just diet and exercise, or else the impact of paleo on your relationships wouldn't come up so often. In a very circuitous way, I'm saying that paleo even more useful when it's interpreted broadly as "natural" and "healthy" things to do based on how we've evolved.

93f44e8673d3ea2294cce085ebc96e13

(10502)

on September 24, 2010
at 09:22 PM

Good point. Knew this but forgot about it. Will upvote.

4b97e3bb2ee4a9588783f5d56d687da1

(22913)

on September 24, 2010
at 09:30 PM

Is that higher risk because of not having kids or because of chemical birth control methods?

Cfccbcf3450ac4919311ded8ef162d49

(2312)

on September 25, 2010
at 01:18 AM

Kamal, "paleo isn't just diet" because the people that eat a paleo diet often do share similar thoughts in other areas of life. That doesn't mean every aspect of life needs to be considered "paleo." But, often people post as if paleo were a religion with a specific set of doctrine, which if not followed will lead to some sort of eternal condemnation. OK, that's a little exaggerated, but hopefully you get my point.

Cfccbcf3450ac4919311ded8ef162d49

(2312)

on September 25, 2010
at 12:08 AM

I'd give more "thumbs-up" ratings but can only give you one. Really, what would eating a paleolithic diet have to do with the number of children we have. It's not a religion, it's not a cult.

21fd060d0796fdb8a4a990441e08eae7

(24543)

on September 25, 2010
at 01:23 AM

The original post did not frame paleo as a dogmatic/religious concept. Note the language used and the breadth of opinion sought. Just because the number of kids one chooses is a personal matter, doesn't mean that it isn't strongly related to our health and genetic propensity. I prefer to use my Jump to Conclusions Mat for more obvious posts!

9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on September 24, 2010
at 09:06 PM

Women who have never had children have a higher risk of certain illnesses. Greater than one is probably optimal from an evolutionary perspective.

9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on September 25, 2010
at 12:10 AM

well the diet doesn't, but viewing health from an evolutionary paradigm allows us to get some ideas about certain problems plaguing modern women. I will rephrase the question.

0
Cfccbcf3450ac4919311ded8ef162d49

(2312)

on September 25, 2010
at 12:10 AM

I'd be screwed if being paleo meant limiting the number of children we have. I had four children before I ever discovered the paleo lifestyle - which for me is the lifestyle of eating clean. It doesn't dictate other areas of my life.

Cfccbcf3450ac4919311ded8ef162d49

(2312)

on September 27, 2010
at 08:02 PM

do we really need any paradigm (besides our own individual set) to test if a change can improve our quality of life?

77732bf6bf2b8a360f523ef87c3b7523

(6157)

on September 25, 2010
at 04:43 PM

Paleo doesn't have any impact on sleep, exercise, avoiding environmental toxins, sunshine exposure, footwear, chairs?

Cfccbcf3450ac4919311ded8ef162d49

(2312)

on September 27, 2010
at 04:16 AM

I've lived my life this way before I discovered eating paleo, so for me, no it hasn't directly impacted my life besides the way I eat. That said, I've always tried to live a pretty clean, simple existance.

77732bf6bf2b8a360f523ef87c3b7523

(6157)

on September 27, 2010
at 01:39 PM

It's not that you have to discover "The Paleo Diet" to figure out that barefoot is better than expensive Nike's. It's what Melissa said above: Paleo is really about looking at health from an evolutionary paradigm -- at least, that is the way some of us look at it. Even if you swore off shoes and fluoride-based toothpaste before you ever heard of Paleo, the Paleo or evolutionary paradigm allows us to make hypotheses and predictions that we can test to see if certain adjustments can improve our health/quality of life.

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