Saturday, April 9, 2011
When a human skeleton is found, forensic scientists create what is called a biological profile. By studying the bones, they can guess the person’s height, sex and age.
Estimating weight, however, is difficult. Now researchers report that they have found a strong clue: the shape of the femur bone.
For their study, in the March issue of The Journal of Forensic Sciences, the scientists looked at the skeletons and records of more than 100 white men at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and found that the femurs of those with a higher body mass index had a wider shaft. (The authors used the remains of white men for uniformity, since genetics and sex can affect bone shape.)
The researchers speculate that femurs tend to widen as they bear more weight, and as the weight shifts from side to side during activities like walking.
The finding is important because Americans have been getting heavier in the past 30 years, said the lead author, Gina Agostini, a doctoral student in anthropology at the University of Massachusetts. (She worked on the research as a master’s student at North Carolina State University.) “It’s important to know how the body is responding to weight as the prevalence of obesity increases,” she said.
In the future, weight estimations may be particularly useful in forensic biological profiling.
“Weight is an important identifying characteristic,” she said. “It’s something that people notice.”
Bhanoo, Sindya N. 2011. "A Bone’s Telltale Shape Eases Weight Estimates". New York Times. Posted: March 29, 2011. Available online: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/29/science/29obfemur.html?_r=1