By Jenny Beth Dyess
William Albrecht (1888–1974) cared about the link between soil health and people’s health. As he witnessed the rise of industrial agriculture, he became deeply concerned about the negative impacts of profit driven farming on the soil. Chairman of the Department of Soils at the University of Missouri in the 1950s, Albrecht desired, as a scientist, to understand the complexities of soil health and how that might impact humans.
William Albrecht was fascinated by the link between soil fertility and public health. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)
Fascinated by the link between the health of people and the soil, he reviewed the dental records of 70,000 U.S. sailors from the World War II era. Using cavities as indicators, he found that nutritional deficiencies, particularly in calcium and potassium, in the sailors’ dental health records correlated with insufficient fertility of the soil in the region of the U.S. they were from. For example, someone from the more weathered and nutrient deficient lands east of the Mississippi River had more cavities than someone from Hereford, Texas where soil nutrition was significantly higher.
While dental hygiene has drastically improved American teeth there are other health problems which may still be linked to the soil. In 2003, Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona stated that nearly two out of every three children are overweight or obese. Currently, 33.8 percent of American adults are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and numbers are on the rise. In 2000 no state had an obesity rate of 30 percent or more but by 2009, 9 states had obesity rates of 30 percent or more and in 2010 that number had risen to 12 states.
Compared with the early 1900s, not only has food per capita available to Americans increased, Americans are eating more nutrient dense foods. Meat consumption has quadrupled and cheese consumption is seven and a half times what it was in the early 1900s, but fresh fruit and home grown vegetable consumption have decreased. In 1919, about 25 percent of vegetables consumed were from a home garden, by 1998 that had dropped to less than 3 percent.