Anthropometry can be said to have started in mid-1800s when doctors were still very much in contact with ancient medicines whilst new paradigms they needed to understand were emerging.
In 1870, Adolfo Prettelt, a genius of his time and fascinated with these new trends, started not only relevant scientific work, but was also interested in “the average man” and was therefore interested in the statistics concerning the average.
Following in the steps of Prettelt, Pierre Paul Broca was a neurologist who created a lab and a school of anthropology. The reason for this was that scientists of the time yearned to understand shapes and what they meant. They were fascinated by the idea that people were differently shaped and built, and therefore had different qualities of tissues, as one example. Also in this particular climate and time, Aquilla di Giovanni, a doctor teaching at university of Bologna, created the first way of classifying people according to specific morphology. Since the 1600s, the idea of measuring and putting data together had been at the fore but it wasn’t until the 1800s that the classification of phrases, types, and evidence to back up findings came about.
Endocrinology was born in Italy after the studies of the Italian School of Anthropometry and the core idea therein was to measure and prove that a statistical correlation between an average, and what goes out of the average, does exist, and that is the binomial law. Aquila di Giovanni affirmed with his work that what one sees in the body of the patient needs to be investigated and correlated with development during a specific age, in particular – the age of organ formation, which happens in the embryological phase of development.
In 1890 di Giovanni published the text “The Morphology of Human Body” where he explained all the correlations between the structures of the body, body shapes and certain diseases. In modern anthropometry, it is known that every measurement has a specific ratio when harmony is maintained.
One measurement which is commonly assessed is that of the thoracic cage/chest. For example in Italy, when recruitment occurs for military service, subjects’ chests are measured. If a subject’s chest measurement is below a certain cut-off girth allowance, that subject is exonerated from service. This is due to the fact that there are many cases where measurement of the thorax can be used to indicate the presence of malnutrition – one instance of which is the disease called Rickets. With Rickets, the chest circumference is smaller, and the sternum is dented or introverted. This in turn affects cardiovascular function, respiratory function and therefore decreases performance.
Another marker that is commonly used and is very, very useful for both estimating accurately the body fat index (BFI) and distribution of type of fat is a measurement of the neck. The predictive potential of the neck circumference when looking at cardio metabolic risk has been found to be strong and can be used to indicate certain conditions which may be prevented.
Anthropometric measurements are thus used as markers of health and disease, not only on their own but one in relation to another.