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.
Article Archive: Humans
Present evidence suggests that modern humans were the first hominid species to successfully colonize high-latitude environments (> or =55 degrees N). Given evidence for a recent (<200,000 years) lower latitude naissance of modern humans, the global dispersal and successful settlement of arctic and subarctic regions represent an unprecedented adaptive shift. This adaptive shift, which included cultural, behavioral, and biological dimensions, allowed human populations to cope with the myriad environmental stressors encountered in circumpolar regions. Although unique morphological and physiological adaptations among contemporary northern residents have been recognized for decades, human biologists are only now beginning to consider whether biological adaptations to regional environmental conditions influence health changes associated with economic modernization and lifestyle change. Recent studies have documented basal metabolic rates (BMRs) among indigenous Siberian populations that are systematically elevated compared to lower latitude groups; this metabolic elevation apparently is a physiological adaptation to cold stress experienced in the circumpolar environment. Important health implications of metabolic adaptation are suggested by research with the Yakut (Sakha), Evenki, and Buriat of Siberia. BMR is significantly positively correlated with blood pressure, independently of body size, body composition, and various potentially confounding variables (e.g., age and smoking). Further, this research has documented a significant negative association between BMR and LDL cholesterol, which remains after controlling for potential confounders; this suggests that high metabolic turnover among indigenous Siberians has a protective effect with regard to plasma lipid levels. These results underscore the importance of incorporating an evolutionary approach into health research among northern populations.
C-reactive protein (CRP) is an inflammatory marker, which at low-level elevations is associated with increased cardiovascular risk. Although CRP has been extensively investigated in North American and European settings, few studies have measured CRP among non-Western groups. The present study used dried whole blood spot samples to examine high-sensitivity CRP concentrations among the Yakut (Sakha) of Siberia (85 females, 56 males; 18-58 years old). Our goals were: (1) to compare Yakut CRP concentrations with other populations; (2) to investigate sex differences; and (3) to explore anthropometric correlates of CRP. Results indicate that serum equivalent CRP concentrations are similar to those from industrializing nations, lower than US and European values, and greater than Japanese concentrations. Yakut men and women display similar CRP concentrations; however, CRP was significantly higher among men after adjustment for body fat, age, and smoking. Positive associations were documented between CRP and BMI, body fat, and central adiposity.
AIM: The study analysed variability in physical stature, weight, and body mass index (BMI) in the USA during 1971-2002.
SUBJECTS: Subjects were non-Hispanic Blacks and Whites, 2-74 years of age from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES I-III and 1999-2002).
METHODS: The coefficient of variation and the standard deviation of the logarithm of stature, weight, and BMI were used to assess anthropometric variability for groups defined by age, race, sex, income, and survey year. Weighted ordinary least squares regressions were used to estimate the effect of socio-economic variables on anthropometric variability.
RESULTS: (a) The relation between age and variability in weight or BMI resembles an inverted U, (b) men have lower variability in BMI than women, (c) Blacks and the poor have greater variability in weight and BMI than Whites or than the non-poor, and (d) variability in anthropometric indices increased during 1971-2002. Results were robust to the measure of variability used and to the use of the mean and mean square of the anthropometric indicators as explanatory variables.
CONCLUSION: Since anthropometric indices correlate reliably with canonical indicators of well-being (e.g. income), growing variability in anthropometric indices, particularly among the Blacks and the poor, signals growing inequality in quality of life--a worrisome trend.
Human indigenous circumpolar populations have elevated basal metabolic rates (BMRs) relative to predicted values; this metabolic elevation has been postulated to be a physiological adaptation to chronic and severe cold stress. The present study examines BMR in the Yakut, an indigenous high-latitude population from the Sakha Republic of Russia to determine (1) whether the Yakut show evidence of an elevated BMR, (2) if the Yakut display evidence of age-related changes in BMR, and (3) whether lifestyle differences influence BMR. BMR was measured during the late summer in 75 women and 50 men (ages 18-56 years) from the Siberian village of Berdygestiakh. Measured BMR (+/- SEM) of the entire sample was significantly elevated (+6.5%) compared to predictions based on body mass (6,623.7 +/- 94.9 vs. 6,218.2 +/- 84.7 kJ/day; P < 0.001). Additionally, measured BMR for the entire sample was significantly higher than predictions based on fat-free mass (+20.8%) and surface area (+8.9%). Males and females both showed significant elevations relative to all three standards. The elevated BMR of the Yakut does not appear to be attributable to extreme levels of protein, since the Yakut consume a mixed diet with a substantial proportion of carbohydrates. No significant age-related changes in BMR were found when controlled for body composition. No significant relationship was found between lifestyle variables and BMR, suggesting the possibility of a genetic or developmental mechanism. This study provides additional evidence of metabolic elevation in indigenous circumpolar groups and has important implications for estimating the nutritional requirements of these populations.
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.
This article examines evidence for elevations in basal metabolic rate (BMR) among indigenous Northern (circumpolar) populations and considers potential mechanisms and the adaptive basis for such elevations. Data on BMR among indigenous (n = 109 males; 122 females) and nonindigenous (n = 15 males; 22 females) circumpolar groups of North America and Siberia are compiled and compared to predicted BMRs based on three different references: body surface area (Consolazio et al., 1963), body mass (Schofield, 1985), and fat-free mass (Poehlman and Toth, 1995). Regardless of which reference is used, indigenous circumpolar groups show systematic and statistically significant elevations in BMR ranging from +7% to +19% above predicted values for indigenous men and from +3 to +17% for indigenous women. Nonindigenous males also show elevations in BMR, although not to the same extent as in indigenous men (deviations = +3 to +14%), whereas nonindigenous females show no clear evidence of elevated BMRs (deviations = -7 to +5%). This pattern of variation between indigenous and nonindigenous groups suggests that both functional and genetic factors play a role in metabolic adaptation to northern climes. Recent studies on the ecology and genetics of thyroid function offer insights into the mechanisms through which indigenous circumpolar populations may regulate metabolic rates. Studies of seasonal variation in thyroid hormone levels suggest that indigenous circumpolar populations may have a greater capacity to elevate BMR during severe cold than nonindigenous groups. Recent twin studies indicate a significant genetic component of thyroid responses to environmental stressors. Further research exploring the genetics of seasonal variation in thyroid function and BMR among circumpolar groups would advance understanding of the role that selection may have played in shaping metabolic variation.
The Yakuts are a Turkic-speaking population from northeastern Siberia who are believed to have originated from ancient Turkic populations in South Siberia, based on archaeological and ethnohistorical evidence. In order to better understand Yakut origins, we modeled 25 demographic scenarios and tested by coalescent simulation whether any are consistent with the patterns of mtDNA diversity observed in present-day Yakuts. The models consist of either two simulated demes that represent Yakuts and a South Siberian ancestral population, or three demes that also include a regional Northeast Siberian population that served as a source of local gene flow into the Yakut deme. The model that produced the best fit to the observed data defined a founder group with an effective female population size of only 150 individuals that migrated northwards approximately 1,000 years BP and who experienced significant admixture with neighboring populations in Northeastern Siberia. These simulation results indicate a pronounced founder effect that was primarily kin-structured and reconcile reported discrepancies between Yakut mtDNA and Y chromosome diversity levels.
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.
Leptin is thought to signal energy stores, thus helping the body balance energy intake and expenditure. However, the strong relationship between leptin and adiposity in populations with adequate nutrition or common obesity is not universal across ecologic contexts, and leptin often correlates only weakly, or not at all, with adiposity in populations of lean or marginally-nourished males. To clarify whether the relationship between adiposity and leptin changes during development, this study examines leptin and body fat among children and adolescents of lowland Bolivia. Anthropometric measures of body composition and dried blood spot samples were collected from 487 Tsimane' ranging from 2 to 15 years of age. Leptin was assayed using an enzyme immunoassay protocol validated for use with blood spot samples. In this population, leptin concentrations were among the lowest reported in a human population (mean +/- SD: 1.26 +/- 0.5 and 0.57 +/- 0.3 in females and males). In addition, the relationship between leptin and adiposity follows distinct developmental trajectories in males and females. In males, leptin is weakly correlated with most measures of body composition at all ages investigated. However, in females, the level of body fat and the strength of the correlation between body fat and leptin (a measure of its strength as a signal of energy stores) both increase markedly with age. These findings suggest a more important role of leptin as a signal of energy stores among females as they approach reproductive maturity, while raising questions about the function of this hormone in lean males.
Understanding the pathogenesis of obesity is now more important than ever, given the remarkable world-wide epidemic. This paper explores the potential role of core temperature in energy balance, and develops the hypothesis that basal temperature and changes in the temperature response in various situations contribute to the enhanced metabolic efficiency of the obese state. The argument is based on the important contribution that heat production makes in establishing the basal or resting metabolic rate, as well as on an analysis of the adaptive role played by changes in temperature in response to environmental challenge. If this hypothesis is validated, new therapeutic approaches may ensue.
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.
The evolution of large human brain size has had important implications for the nutritional biology of our species. Large brains are energetically expensive, and humans expend a larger proportion of their energy budget on brain metabolism than other primates. The high costs of large human brains are supported, in part, by our energy- and nutrient-rich diets. Among primates, relative brain size is positively correlated with dietary quality, and humans fall at the positive end of this relationship. Consistent with an adaptation to a high-quality diet, humans have relatively small gastrointestinal tracts. In addition, humans are relatively "undermuscled" and "over fat" compared with other primates, features that help to offset the high energy demands of our brains. Paleontological evidence indicates that rapid brain evolution occurred with the emergence of Homo erectus 1.8 million years ago and was associated with important changes in diet, body size, and foraging behavior.
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.
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.
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.
The rapid social and cultural changes introduced by the collapse of the Soviet Union have resulted in important differences in cardiovascular health for indigenous Siberians. This study investigated diet and lifestyle determinants of plasma lipids in the Yakut, an indigenous Siberian herding population. The study used a cross-sectional design with data on 201 subjects in three urbanized towns and three rural communities in northeastern Siberia. Data on sociodemographic characteristics, dietary intake, and material lifestyle were collected, and lipids were analyzed from venous whole blood. Diet was analyzed using patterns of dietary intake based on principal components analysis of a dietary intake (food frequency) questionnaire. We identified three diet patterns: a traditional subsistence diet, a market foods diet, and a mixed diet. The effect of lifestyle on cardiovascular risk factors was measured using an ethnographically defined lifestyle index, with two orthogonal dimensions: subsistence lifestyle and modern lifestyle. Total cholesterol (TC) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) were significantly higher among those consuming a traditional subsistence diet of meat and dairy products. A modern lifestyle was associated with lower TC and LDL but higher adiposity and higher risk of obesity. LDL and TC were higher in rural communities and lower in urbanized towns. The significantly higher lipid levels associated with a subsistence diet and indirectly with a subsistence lifestyle indicate the emergence of a significant health problem associated with the social and cultural changes occurring in Yakutia today. These findings underscore the need for dietary modification and promotion of physical activity among those most at risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD). Moreover, these results differ from those commonly seen in "modernizing" populations, in that elements of subsistence lifestyle are associated with an elevated rather than reduced risk of CVD. Such variable responses to lifestyle change emphasize the need to better understand the distinct social and historical events that may influence health changes among populations in transition.
C-reactive protein (CRP), an acute-phase reactant and marker of inflammatory response, is known to be an important predictor of future cardiovascular mortality, independent of other risk factors. The purpose of this research was to investigate the association between CRP, adiposity, and blood pressure in the Yakut, an indigenous Siberian population undergoing rapid cultural change. We conducted a cross-sectional study of 265 healthy Yakut adults in six villages in rural northeastern Siberia. Plasma CRP was measured by high-sensitivity immunoturbidimetric assay. The median CRP value was 0.85 mg/l, with values for the 25th, 50th, and 75th percentiles of 0.30, 0.85, and 2.28 mg/l, respectively. CRP was positively associated with age (r = 0.19; P = 0.002), but not plasma lipids or smoking status. CRP was associated with measures of central adiposity and characteristics of the metabolic syndrome, particularly in women. We found significantly higher CRP across quintiles (Q) of waist circumference for women (difference = 0.7 mg/l; P = 0.035), but not men (difference = 0.36 mg/l; P = 0.515). CRP was significantly associated with systolic blood pressure in men (difference, Q1 vs. Q5 = 1.1 mg/l; P = 0.044) but not women (difference, Q1 vs. Q5 = 0.03 mg/l; P = 0.713) after adjusting for age, waist circumference, and smoking status. CRP in the Yakut was considerably lower than was reported for other populations. The low CRP levels may be explained in part by a low prevalence of abdominal obesity. Among the Yakut, the high physical-activity demands of a traditional herding lifeway likely play a role through high energy expenditure and maintenance of negative energy balance. Our findings underscore the need for further research on the metabolic activity of adipose tissue, blood pressure, and inflammatory activation in non-Western populations.
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.
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.
OBJECTIVES: This study investigated the lifestyle and anthropometric correlates of impaired fasting glucose and the presence of metabolic syndrome (MetS) among an Indigenous high-latitude herding population from north-eastern Siberia.
STUDY DESIGN: Cross-sectional study of Yakut (Sakha) adult volunteers.
METHODS: We collected health, lifestyle and anthropometric data among 166 Yakut adults (>or=18 years old; 101 females, 65 males) from the rural village of Tyungyulyu (62 degrees N, 130 degrees E; population 2,500), Sakha Republic (Yakutia), Russia. Measurements of fasting glucose, triglycerides, HDL cholesterol, blood pressure and waist circumference were used to document the presence of MetS based on the updated Adult Treatment Panel (ATP) III definition.
RESULTS: Metabolic syndrome was relatively uncommon among study participants, with only 10% of participants classified as having MetS, including 8% of females and 12% of males. Elevated blood pressure and low HDL cholesterol were the most common features of MetS in Yakut men and women, while elevated fasting glucose and high triglycerides were uncommon in both sexes. Relatively low mean fasting glucose concentrations were documented among Yakut women (4.46+/-0.65 mmol/L) and men (4.41+/-0.76 mmol/L); no participants were classified as diabetic.
CONCLUSIONS: Fasting glucose and MetS are at relatively low levels in this population; however, rising rates of obesity are likely to lead to future increases in MetS and impaired fasting glucose in this population. Further, increasing consumption of market foods, many high in refined sugars, is likely to contribute to an increased presence of impaired fasting glucose and MetS.
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.
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.
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.