Document Type


Publication Date




Publication Title

PLoS One






e0213369 (1-20)



Portugal underwent significant political, demographic and epidemiological transitions during the 20th century resulting in migration to urban areas with subsequent overcrowding and issues with water sanitation. This study investigates population health during these transitions and interprets results within a framework of recent history and present-day public health information. We investigate skeletal evidence for anemia (cribra orbitalia and porotic hyperostosis) as indicators of stress and frailty-i.e., whether the lesions contribute to susceptibility for disease or increased risk of death.


The presence and severity of skeletal lesions were compared against known sex and cause of death data to investigate potential heterogeneity in frailty and the relationship between lesions and risk of dying over time. Additionally, we tested for the presence of selective mortality in our data (i.e., whether or not the sample is biased for individuals with higher frailty). Our sample derives from a large, documented, modern Portuguese collection from Lisbon and is the first study of its kind using a documented collection. The collection represents primarily middle-class individuals.


Analyses indicated that porotic hyperostosis became more common and severe over time, while cribra orbitalia severity increased over time. Neither process was linked to cause of death. However, there was a significant relationship to sex; males exhibited a higher prevalence and severity of lesions and increased mortality. A Gompertz function showed decreased survivorship in early life but increased survivorship over age 60. Using comorbidities of anemia, we were unable to detect selective mortality-i.e., in our sample, lesions do not represent a sign of poor health or increased frailty and are not significantly linked with a decreased mean age-at-death. However, lesion prevalence and severity do reflect the socioeconomic processes in urban Lisbon during the 1800s and 1900s and the possibility of water-borne parasites as the contributing factor for iron deficiency anemia.


© 2019 Hens et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Original Publication Citation

Hens, S. M., Godde, K., & Macak, K. M. (2019). Iron deficiency anemia, population health and frailty in a modern Portuguese skeletal sample. PLoS One, 14(3), e0213369. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0213369