Social rank and adult male nutritional status: evidence of the social gradient in health from a foraging-farming society
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.