The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)

The Shuar Health and Life History Project: lifestyle and dietary correlates of skeletal health among the indigenous Shuar and non-Shuar Colonos of Ecuadorian Amazonia


1Department of Anthropology, University of Oregon, 2Institute of Cognitive and Decision Sciences, University of Oregon, 3Center for Evolutionary Psychology, University of California, Santa Barbara

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Increasing market integration (MI) is characterized by changes in patterns of diet, activity, and individual and community-level socioeconomics, which in turn, have implications for numerous health outcomes including obesity and hypertension. Minimal research has focused on the effects of MI on skeletal health, an oversight given the enormous health effects of osteoporosis worldwide. This study examines skeletal health in relation to dietary and lifestyle correlates in the Indigenous Shuar of Ecuadorian Amazonia, a forager-horticulturalist population currently experiencing rapid transition to a market economy. For comparative purposes, we also include data from a local, non-Shuar mestizo (Colono) population. Participants included 227 Shuar (91 males; 136 females) and 261 Colonos (104 males; 157 females) between 15-91 years old. Standard anthropometric dimensions were collected, and skeletal health was determined using a calcaneal ultrasonometer. Measures of MI were obtained using economic, lifestyle, and household food frequency questionnaires, which were reduced by principal components analysis. Multiple regression analyses tested the association between skeletal health and MI factors. Results indicate that Shuar have significantly higher bone values than Colonos and other reference populations (p < 0.05). Dietary correlates were significantly associated with skeletal health among Colonos, while among Shuar, a significant negative association was documented between degree of MI and skeletal health. Shuar individuals who were more market integrated, as opposed to “traditionally” living, had poorer bone health. This study identifies key relationships between skeletal health and cultural and economic change, and has potential for contributing to public health policies for osteoporosis prevention.

This study was funded by Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research (7970); NSF BCS-0925910; Leakey Foundation; UCSB Center for Evolutionary Psychology (via NIH 5DP1OD000516-04); Institute of Cognitive and Decision Sciences, University of Oregon; Anthropology Department, University of Oregon; Ryoichi Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship Fund.

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