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Is the Average Human Body Temperature Still 98.6?

If you’ve ever taken your temperature, or your child’s temperature, at home, chances are you’re expecting 98.6 to show up on the thermometer, unless there’s a fever at play. A temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius) has been widely considered the normal average human body temperature for years. In fact, German physician Carl Reinhold August Wunderlich was the first to determine average human body temperature back in 1851, after taking the temperature of around 25,000 patients. However, a recent study suggests that a change is in order.

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Dr. Julie Parsonnet from Stanford University worked with her team to collect body temperature data from 1862 to 2017. After examining the data, they noticed that temperatures have been falling steadily since the mid-19th century. According to the study, the body temperatures in both men and women have decreased consistently by 0.05 degrees Fahrenheit (3 degrees Celsius) per decade of birth, since the 1800s.

A 2017 study found similar results. Researchers conducting the study found that the average temperature among 35,000 patients in England measured around 97.88 degrees Fahrenheit, lower than the 98.6 that’s still considered average today.

The researchers hypothesized that declining body temperatures may be driven by longer lifespans and a decrease in infections; the lower rate of infections and loss of inflammation may be bringing down body temperatures. Since the normal average is utilized so much by health care professionals, researchers suggest a change should be made.

Dr. Parsonnet explained, "Humans are changing physiologically over time: we are taller, fatter and cooler. We don't know what this means. We do know that small changes in temperature — global climate change as an example — can have profound implications. Whether this is also true for humans is unknown.”