Article Archive: Reyes-García V

Am J Hum Biol 22(3):336-47
1 May 2010

The ubiquity and consequences of childhood growth stunting (<-2 SD in height-for-age Z score, HAZ) in rural areas of low-income nations has galvanized research into the reversibility of stunting, but the shortage of panel data has hindered progress. Using panel data from a native Amazonian society of foragers-farmers in Bolivia (Tsimane'), we estimate rates of catch-up growth for stunted children. One hundred forty-six girls and 158 boys 2 < or = age < or = 7 were measured annually during 2002-2006. Annual Delta height in cm and in HAZ were regressed separately against baseline stunting and control variables related to attributes of the child, mother, household, and village. Children stunted at baseline had catch-up growth rates 0.11 SD/year higher than their nonstunted age and sex peers, with a higher rate among children farther from towns. The rate of catch up did not differ by the child's sex. A 10% rise in household income and an additional younger sibling lowered by 0.16 SD/year and 0.53 SD/year the rate of growth. Results were weaker when measuring Delta height in cm rather than in HAZ. Possible reasons for catch-up growth include (a) omitted variable bias, (b) parental reallocation of resources to redress growth faltering, particularly if parents perceive the benefits of redressing growth faltering for child school achievement, and (c) developmental plasticity during this period when growth rates are most rapid and linear growth trajectories have not yet canalized.

1 July 2007

Researchers have shown interest in the relation between (a) social capital and individual income and (b) the individual health of people of industrial nations. The socioeconomic complexity of industrial nations makes it difficult to arrive at firm conclusions. We circumvent the obstacle by using data from a small-scale rural society of foragers-farmers in the Bolivian Amazon (Tsimane'). We examine the interactions between the outcome (BMI) and relative income, relative social capital, village income, and village social capital. We test three hypotheses: people in villages with more social capital should have higher BMI, the positive association between social capital and BMI will be more marked among the less well-off, and better-off people who display generosity will have higher BMI than better-off people who do not. On the methodological side we show the importance of: focusing on relative measures of income and social capital, estimating interaction between community and relative measures of income and social capital, and showing results through contour plots that summarize the relation between BMI and pairs of explanatory variables. On the substantive side we find evidence that village social capital and village income complement each other and are associated with higher BMI, the rich who are stingy have lower BMI than the rich who display generosity, and increase in village income might reduce individual incentives to invest in social capital. We explore interactions between explanatory variables and their influence on BMI, and end by recommending the use of an experimental research design to obtain unbiased estimates of causal effects.

Cult Med Psychiatry 34(1):186-203
1 March 2010

Researchers have hypothesized that the degree to which an individual's actual behavior approximates the culturally valued lifestyle encoded in the dominant cultural model has consequences for physical and mental health. We contribute to this line of research by analyzing data from a longitudinal study composed of five annual surveys (2002-2006 inclusive) of 791 adults in one society of foragers-farmers in the Bolivian Amazon, the Tsimane'. We estimate the association between a standard measure of individual achievement of the cultural model and (a) four indicators of psychological well-being (sadness, anger, fear and happiness) and (b) consumption of four potentially addictive substances (alcohol, cigarette, coca leaves and home-brewed beer) as indicators of stress behavior. After controlling for individual fixed effects, we found a negative association between individual achievement of the cultural model and psychological distress and a positive association between individual achievement of the cultural model and psychological well-being. Only the consumption of commercial alcohol bears the expected negative association with cultural consonance in material lifestyle, probably because the other substances analyzed have cultural values attached. Our work contributes to research on psychological health disparities by showing that a locally defined and culturally specific measure of lifestyle success is associated with psychological health.

Soc Sci Med 63(2):359-72
1 July 2006

Researchers have found a positive association between income inequality and poor individual health. To explain the link, researchers have hypothesized that income inequality erodes community social capital, which unleashes negative emotions, stress, and stress behaviors that hurt health. Few studies have tested the hypothesized path. Here we estimate the association between (a) village income inequality and social capital, and (b) three distinct negative emotions (anger, fear, sadness) and one stress behavior (alcohol consumption). We use four quarters of panel data (2002-2003) from 655 adults in 13 villages of a foraging-farming society in the Bolivian Amazon (Tsimane'). We found that: (1) village income inequality was associated with more negative emotions but with less alcohol consumption, (2) social capital always bore a negative association with outcomes, and (3) results held up after introducing many changes to the main model. We conclude that village income inequality probably affects negative emotions and stress behaviors through other paths besides social capital because we conditioned for social capital. One such path is an innate dislike of inequality, which might have pre-human origins. Our prior research with the Tsimane' suggests that village income inequality bore an insignificant association with individual health. Therefore, village income inequality probably affects negative emotions and stress behaviors before undermining health.

Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 104(15):6134-9
10 April 2007

Culture is a critical determinant of human behavior and health, and the intergenerational transmission of knowledge regarding the use of available plant resources has historically been an essential function of culture. Local ethnobotanical knowledge is important for health and nutrition, particularly in rural low-resource settings, but cultural and economic transitions associated with globalization threaten such knowledge. This prospective study investigates the association between parental ethnobotanical knowledge and child health among the Tsimane', a horticulturalist and foraging society in Amazonian Bolivia. Anthropometric data and capillary blood samples were collected from 330 Tsimane' 2- to 10-year-olds, and mothers and fathers were interviewed to assess ethnobotanical knowledge and skills. Comprehensive measures of parental schooling, acculturation, and economic activities were also collected. Dependent variables included three measures of child health: (i) C-reactive protein, assayed in whole-blood spots as an indicator of immunostimulation; (ii) skinfold thickness, to estimate subcutaneous fat stores necessary to fuel growth and immune function; and (iii) height-for-age, to assess growth stunting. Each child health measure was associated with maternal ethnobotanical knowledge, independent of a wide range of potentially confounding variables. Each standard deviation of maternal ethnobotanical knowledge increased the likelihood of good child health by a factor of >1.5. Like many populations around the world, the Tsimane' are increasingly facing the challenges and opportunities of globalization. These results underscore the importance of local cultural factors to child health and document a potential cost if ethnobotanical knowledge is lost.

Ambio 36(5):406-8
1 July 2007

Indigenous peoples are often considered potential allies in the conservation of biological diversity. Here we assess whether ethnobotanical skills of indigenous people contribute to a reduction in the clearance of tropical rain forest. We measured ethnobotanical skills of male household heads and area of rain forest cleared for agriculture among 128 households of Tsimane', a native Amazonian group in Bolivia. We used multivariate regressions to estimate the relation between ethnobotanical skills and area of rain forest cleared while controlling for schooling, health status, number of plots cleared, adults in household, and village of residency. We found that when the ethnobotanical skills of the male household head were doubled, the amount of tropical rain forest cleared per household was reduced by 25%. The association was stronger when the area of old-growth forest cleared was used as the dependent variable than when the area cleared from fallow forest was used as the dependent variable. People who use the forest for subsistence might place a higher value on standing forest than people who do not use it, and thus they may be more reluctant to cut down the forest.

Journal of ethnobiology and ethnomedicine 2:21
1 January 2006

BACKGROUND: New quantitative methods to collect and analyze data have produced novel findings in ethnobiology. A common application of quantitative methods in ethnobiology is to assess the traditional ecological knowledge of individuals. Few studies have addressed reliability of indices of traditional ecological knowledge constructed with different quantitative methods.

METHODS: We assessed the associations among eight indices of traditional ecological knowledge from data collected from 650 native Amazonians. We computed Spearman correlations, Chronbach's alpha, and principal components factor analysis for the eight indices.

RESULTS: We found that indices derived from different raw data were weakly correlated (rho<0.5), whereas indices derived from the same raw data were highly correlated (rho>0.5; p < 0.001). We also found a relatively high internal consistency across data from the eight indices (Chronbach's alpha = 0.78). Last, results from a principal components factor analysis of the eight indices suggest that the eight indices were positively related, although the association was low when considering only the first factor.

CONCLUSION: A possible explanation for the relatively low correlation between indices derived from different raw data, but relatively high internal consistency of the eight indices is that the methods capture different aspects of an individual's traditional ecological knowledge. To develop a reliable measure of traditional ecological knowledge, researchers should collect raw data using a variety of methods and then generate an aggregated measure that contains data from the various components of traditional ecological knowledge. Failure to do this will hinder cross-cultural comparisons.

Economics and human biology 3(1):139-62
1 March 2005

We analyze anthropometric variables of a society of forager-horticulturalists in the Bolivian Amazon (Tsimane') in 2001-2002. Community variables (e.g., inequality, social capital) explain little of the variance in anthropometric indices of nutritional status, but individual-level variables (schooling, wealth) are positively correlated with nutritional status. Dietary quality (foods high in animal proteins), access to foraging technology, and traditional knowledge of medicinal plants are related to better anthropometric indices.

PLoS One 5(6):e11027
9 June 2010

BACKGROUND: Evolutionary theory suggests that natural selection favors the evolution of cognitive abilities which allow humans to use facial cues to assess traits of others. The use of facial and somatic cues by humans has been studied mainly in western industrialized countries, leaving unanswered whether results are valid across cultures.

METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: Our objectives were to test (i) if previous finding about raters' ability to get accurate information about an individual by looking at his facial photograph held in low-income non western rural societies and (ii) whether women and men differ in this ability. To answer the questions we did a study during July-August 2007 among the Tsimane', a native Amazonian society of foragers-farmers in Bolivia. We asked 40 females and 40 males 16-25 years of age to rate four traits in 93 facial photographs of other Tsimane' males. The four traits were based on sexual selection theory, and included health, dominance, knowledge, and sociability. The rating scale for each trait ranged from one (least) to four (most). The average rating for each trait was calculated for each individual in the photograph and regressed against objective measures of the trait from the person in the photograph. We found that (i) female Tsimane' raters were able to assess facial cues related to health, dominance, and knowledge and (ii) male Tsimane' raters were able to assess facial cues related to dominance, knowledge, and sociability.

CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: Our results support the existence of a human ability to identify objective traits from facial cues, as suggested by evolutionary theory.

Soc Sci Med 61(5):907-19
1 September 2005

Evidence has been accumulated about the adverse effects of income inequality on individual health in industrial nations, but we know less about its effect in small-scale, pre-industrial rural societies. Income inequality should have modest effects on individual health. First, norms of sharing and reciprocity should reduce the adverse effects of income inequality on individual health. Second, with sharing and reciprocity, personal income will spill over to the rest of the community, attenuating the protective role of individual income on individual health found in industrial nations. We test these ideas with data from Tsimane' Amerindians, a foraging and farming society in the Bolivian Amazon. Subjects included 479 household heads (13+ years of age) from 58 villages. Dependent variables included anthropometric indices of short-run nutritional status (body-mass index (BMI), and age- and sex-standardized z-scores of mid-arm muscle area and skinfolds). Proxies for income included area deforested per person the previous year and earnings per person in the last 2 weeks. Village income inequality was measured with the Gini coefficient. Income inequality did not correlate with anthropometric indices, most likely because of negative indirect effects from the omission of social-capital variables, which would lower the estimated impact of income inequality on health. The link between BMI and income and between skinfolds and income resembled a U and an inverted U; income did not correlate with mid-arm muscle area. The use of an experimental research design might allow for better estimates of how income inequality affects social capital and individual health.

Soc Sci Med 69(4):571-8
1 August 2009

Research on the social determinants of health has highlighted (a) the adverse effects of social inequality on individual health and (b) the association between individual social rank and health. In this paper, we contribute to the growing literature on the health consequences of social inequalities by assessing the association between village level inequality in social rank, a form of non-material inequality, and indicators of nutritional status. We use quantitative survey information from 289 men (18+ years of age) from a society of forager-farmers in the Bolivian Amazon (Tsimane'). We construct village level measures of non-material inequality by using individual measures of men's positions in the village hierarchy according to prestige (or freely conferred deference) and dominance (or social rank obtained through power). We find that village inequality in dominance, but not village inequality in prestige, is associated with short-term indices of individual nutritional status. Doubling the coefficient of variation of dominance in a village would be associated to a 6.7% lower BMI, a 7.9% smaller mid-arm circumference, and a 27.1% smaller sum of four skin folds of men in the village. We also find that once we decouple individual social rank based on dominance from individual social rank based on prestige, only prestige-based social rank is associated with nutritional status. Potential explanations for our findings relate to the differential forms of resource access derived from the two forms of social hierarchies and to the social and psychological benefits associated with prestige versus the social costs and psychological stress generated by dominance.

Am J Hum Biol 21(5):651-6
1 September 2009

Infectious disease, such as diarrheal disease, respiratory infections, and parasitic infections, are an important source of nutritional and energetic stress in many populations. Inspired by the research and methodological innovations of A. Roberto Frisancho, this work considers the impact of childhood environment and local disease ecology on child health and nutritional patterns among an indigenous group in lowland Bolivia. Specifically, we examine the association between soil-transmitted helminth infection, especially hookworm species, and anthropometric markers of short- and long-term nutritional status. Fecal samples, anthropometric dimensions, and health interviews were collected for 92 children ranging in age from 2.0 to 10.9 years. Microscopic examination revealed high levels of parasitic infection, with 76% of children positive for hookworm species infections (77% of girls and 74% of boys). Less common infections included Ascaris lumbricoides, Trichurius trichiura, and Strongyloides stercoralis with only 15% of children positive for multiple-species infections. After adjusting for sex and age, no statistically significant associations were observed between helminth infections and the frequency of reported illness or anthropometric measures of nutritional status. These data demonstrate the difficulty of assessing nutritional impacts of endemic infections.

Am J Phys Anthropol 136(4):478-84
1 August 2008

Immune function is a central component of maintenance effort, and it provides critical protection against the potentially life threatening effects of pathogens. However, immune defenses are energetically expensive, and the resources they consume are not available to support other activities related to growth and/or reproduction. In our study we use a life history theory framework to investigate tradeoffs between maintenance effort and growth among children in a remote area of Amazonian Bolivia. Baseline concentrations of C-reactive protein (CRP) were measured in 309 2- to 10-year olds as an indicator of immune activation, and height was measured at baseline and three months later. Elevated CRP at baseline predicts smaller gains in height over the subsequent three months, with the costs to growth particularly high for 2- to 4-year olds and for those with low energy reserves (in the form of body fat) at the time of immunostimulation. These results provide evidence for a significant tradeoff between investment in immunity and growth in humans, and highlight an important physiological mechanism through which maintenance effort may have lasting effects on child growth and development.

Soc Sci Med 63(6):1517-30
1 September 2006

Researchers and development organizations have shown interest in individual empowerment because it presumably improves well-being. Estimates of empowerment's effects on well-being contain biases from the potential endogeneity of empowerment. Using data from a sexually egalitarian and highly autarkic society of foragers and horticulturalists in the Bolivian Amazon, the Tsimane', we overcome the problems that this poses by: (1) matching spouses' responses to the same questions about who makes decisions or who breaks ties in 10 domains to improve accuracy in measures of empowerment; and (2) using parental attributes of spouses as instrumental variables for spousal empowerment. Outcomes include two anthropometric indices of short-run nutritional status: body-mass index and age and sex-standardized z scores of mid-arm muscle area. The amount of empowerment of household heads did not affect their nutritional status or other indicators of their well-being, such as income, wealth, expenditures, happiness, social capital, or self-perceived health. It also did not affect the nutritional status of their offspring. Nor did it affect the difference in income, wealth, or monetary expenditures between spouses. The insubstantial effects persisted with other definitions of empowerment or types of regressions. We end with a discussion of why empowerment, despite its popularity in development discourse, has such tenuous links with objective indicators of well-being, and the implication of this finding for future studies of empowerment's effects.

Econ Hum Biol 5(1):165-78.
1 March 2007

Studies of secular trends in adult height in rural pre-literate societies are likely to show no change owing to random measurement error in age. In such societies, adults lack birth certificates and guess when estimating their age. We assess the accuracy of perceived height of the same-sex parent to estimate secular trends. We tested the method among the Tsimane', a native Amazonian society of farmers and foragers in Bolivia. Subjects included 268 women and 287 men >20 years of age. Over half the sample reported inaccurately the height of their same-sex living parent, with a tendency to report no difference when, in fact, differences existed. Results highlight the pitfalls of using perceived parental height to examine secular trends in adult height among the Tsimane', though the method might yield accurate information in other societies. We discuss possible reasons for the low accuracy of Tsimane' estimates.

Econ Hum Biol 5(1):165-78.
1 March 2007

Studies of secular trends in adult height in rural pre-literate societies are likely to show no change owing to random measurement error in age. In such societies, adults lack birth certificates and guess when estimating their age. We assess the accuracy of perceived height of the same-sex parent to estimate secular trends. We tested the method among the Tsimane', a native Amazonian society of farmers and foragers in Bolivia. Subjects included 268 women and 287 men >20 years of age. Over half the sample reported inaccurately the height of their same-sex living parent, with a tendency to report no difference when, in fact, differences existed. Results highlight the pitfalls of using perceived parental height to examine secular trends in adult height among the Tsimane', though the method might yield accurate information in other societies. We discuss possible reasons for the low accuracy of Tsimane' estimates.

Economics and human biology 4(2):184-205
1 June 2006

We examine the association between exposure to the market and Western society on the height of adult Tsimane', a foraging-farming society in the Bolivian Amazon. As with other contemporary native peoples, we find little evidence of a significant secular change in height during 1920-1980. Female height bore a positive association with own schooling and fluency in spoken Spanish and with maternal modern human capital (schooling, writing ability, and fluency in spoken Spanish), but male heights bore no association with parental height or with modern human capital. The absence of a secular change likely reflects the persistence of traditional forms of social organization and production that protect health.

Am J Phys Anthropol 128(4):906-13
1 December 2005

Infectious disease is a major global determinant of child morbidity and mortality, and energetic investment in immune defenses (even in the absence of overt disease) is an important life-history variable, with implications for human growth and development. This study uses a biomarker of immune activation (C-reactive protein) to investigate an important aspect of child health among the Tsimane', a relatively isolated Amerindian population in lowland Bolivia. Our objectives are twofold: 1) to describe the distribution of CRP by age and gender in a cross-sectional sample of 536 2-15-year-olds; and 2) to explore multiple measures of pathogen exposure, economic resources, and acculturation as predictors of increased CRP. The median blood-spot CRP concentration was 0.73 mg/l, with 12.9% of the sample having concentrations greater than 5 mg/L, indicating a relatively high degree of immune activation in this population. Age was the strongest predictor of CRP, with the highest concentrations found among younger individuals. Increased CRP was also associated with higher pathogen exposure, lower household economic resources, and increased maternal education and literacy. The measurement of CRP offers a direct, objective indicator of immune activation, and provides insights into a potentially important pathway through which environmental quality may shape child growth and health.

Ann Hum Biol 35(3):276-93.
1 May 2008

BACKGROUND: Global climate change and recent studies on early-life origins of well-being suggest that climate events early in life might affect health later in life.

AIM: The study tested hypotheses about the association between the level and variability of rain and temperature early in life on the height of children and adolescents in a foraging-farming society of native Amazonians in Bolivia (Tsimane'). SUBJECT AND METhods: Measurements were taken for 525 children aged 2-12 and 218 adolescents aged 13-23 in 13 villages in 2005. Log of standing height was regressed on mean annual level and mean intra-annual monthly coefficient of variation (CV) of rain and mean annual level of temperature during gestation, birth year, and ages 2-4. Controls include age, quinquennium and season of birth, parent's attributes, and dummy variables for surveyors and villages.

RESULTS: Climate variables were only related with the height of boys age 2-12. The level and CV of rain during birth year and the CV of rain and level of temperature during ages 2-4 were associated with taller stature. There were no secular changes in temperature (1973-2005) or rain (1943-2005).

CONCLUSION: The height of young females and males is well protected from climate events, but protection works less well for boys ages 2-12.


Soc Sci Med 67(12):2107-15
1 December 2008

Research with humans and non-human primate species has found an association between social rank and individual health. Among humans, a robust literature in industrial societies has shown that each step down the rank hierarchy is associated with increased morbidity and mortality. Here, we present supportive evidence for the social gradient in health drawing on data from 289 men (18+ years of age) from a society of foragers-farmers in the Bolivian Amazon (Tsimane'). We use a measure of social rank that captures the locally perceived position of a man in the hierarchy of important people in a village. In multivariate regression analysis we found a positive and statistically significant association between social rank and three standard indicators of nutritional status: body mass index (BMI), mid-arm circumference, and the sum of four skinfolds. Results persisted after controlling for material and psychosocial pathways that have been shown to mediate the association between individual socioeconomic status and health in industrial societies. Future research should explore locally-relevant psychosocial factors that may mediate the association between social status and health in non-industrial societies.

Am J Hum Biol 20(1):23-34.
1 January 2008

Recent research documents the effects of adverse conditions during gestation and early childhood on growth responses and health throughout life. Most research linking adverse conditions in early life with adult health comes from industrial nations. We know little about the plasticity of growth responses to environmental perturbations early in life among foragers and horticulturalists. Using 2005 data from 211 women and 215 men 20+ years of age from a foraging-horticultural society of native Amazonians in Bolivia (Tsimane'), we estimate the association between (a) adult height and (b) rainfall amount and variability during three stages in the life cycle: gestation (year 0), birth year (year 1), and years 2-5. We control for confounders such as height of the same-sex parent. Rainfall amount and variability during gestation and birth year bore weak associations with adult height, probably from the protective role of placental physiology and breastfeeding. However, rainfall variability during years 2-5 of life bore a negative association with adult female height. Among women, a 10% increase in the coefficient of variation of rainfall during years 2-5 was associated with 0.7-1.2% lower adult height (1.08-1.93 cm). Environmental perturbations that take place after the cessation of weaning seem to leave the strongest effect on adult height. We advance possible explanations for the absence of effects among males.

Econ Hum Biol 8(1):88-99
1 March 2010

Among adults of industrial nations, growth stunting (<-2 SD height Z score) is associated with worse indicators of adult well-being (e.g., income). Does adult stunting also inflict private costs in traditional societies? Adult stunting penalties or height premiums might only emerge when traditional societies modernize. Here we estimate the association between adult stunting and indicators of adult well-being using data from a panel study in progress among the Tsimane', a foraging-farming society of native Amazonians in Bolivia. Subjects included 248 women and 255 men >or=age 22 measured annually during 5 consecutive years (2002-2006). Nine outcomes (wealth, monetary income, illness, access to credit, mirth, schooling, math skills, plant knowledge, forest clearance) were regressed separately against a stunting dummy variable and a wide range of control variables. We found no significant association between any of the indicators of own well-being and adult stunting. Additional analysis showed that stunting bore an association only with poorer mid-arm muscle area. Height premiums and stunting penalties, though evident and marked in modern societies, might not be common in all traditional societies.