Joined at the Hip? A Paleoepidemiological Study of Developmental Dysplasia of the Hip and Its Relation to Swaddling Practices Among Indigenous Peoples of North America

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Objectives: Clinical prevalence of developmental dysplasia of the hip (DDH) is the highest among modern indigenous populations of North America, yet no systematic study of the paleoepidemiology of this group exists. This study discusses the skeletal criteria, epidemiology, pathophysiology, and risk factors for DDH. A range of cases of DDH from an archaeological Native American population are described, and the clinical and prehistoric prevalence of DDH among indigenous populations of North America are calculated and discussed within a biocultural perspective.

Methods: Pelves of 390 adults from the Late Prehistoric (1490 BP ± 70) Buffalo site, West Virginia were examined for DDH. Morphology of true and false acetabula was classified and other changes of the pelvis, lower limb, and spine were noted along with cranial deformation, providing evidence of infant restriction. Prevalence of DDH among living and archaeological indigenous peoples of North America were calculated and compared. Results: DDH was identified in eighteen adults from Buffalo, resulting in a prevalence of 46.15, within the range reported in modern indigenous groups in North America. However, there is a significant difference between the DDH prevalence in prehistory and today in the target population. Conclusions: Indigenous peoples of North America have the highest reported global prevalence of DDH today and in prehistory. The etiology of DDH suggests that components of both genetic predisposition and swaddling practices have combined to create a high-risk environment for the development of DDH, contributing to its high prevalence within archaeological populations, like Buffalo, and modern Native American/Aboriginal groups within North America. Am. J. Hum. Biol. 25:821–834, 2013.