A Drop in Temperature

In the nearly two centuries since German physician Carl Wunderlich established 98.6°F as the standard “normal” body temperature, it has been used by parents and doctors alike as the measure by which fevers — and often the severity of illness — have been assessed.

Over time, however, and in more recent years, lower body temperatures have been widely reported in healthy adults. A 2017 study among 35,000 adults in the United Kingdom found average body temperature to be lower (97.9°F), and a 2019 study showed that the normal body temperature in Americans (those in Palo Alto, California, anyway) is about 97.5°F.

A multinational team of physicians, anthropologists and local researchers led by Michael Gurven, UC Santa Barbara professor of anthropology and chair of the campus’s Integrative Anthropological Sciences Unit, and Thomas Kraft, a postdoctoral researcher in the same department, have found a similar decrease among the Tsimane, an indigenous population of forager-horticulturists in the Bolivian Amazon. In the 16 years since Gurven, co-director of the Tsimane Health and Life History Project, and fellow researchers have been studying the population, they have observed a rapid decline in average body temperature — 0.09°F per year, such that today Tsimane body temperatures are roughly 97.7°F.


See full details in The Current