The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)


Defining, operationalizing, and assessing the relationship between stress and health in contemporary Tanzanian mothers and children

WARREN M. WILSON1 and JASON A. DECARO2.

1Archaeology, University of Calgary, 2Anthropology, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa

Friday 1:45-2:00, Ballroom A Add to calendar

In 1926, Canon proposed that health occurs when organisms are at physiological homeostasis and added that any external factor with the potential to disrupt physiological homeostasis be labeled stress. The second law of thermodynamics indicates that organisms are constantly stressed as they strive to maintain physiological homeostasis in the face of entropy. The ubiquity of stress makes it difficult to determine which predictor and outcome variables to consider when seeking to understand the etiology of health. For those who conduct research in cultures other than their own, this difficulty may be compounded by ethnocentrism. Adopting Canon’s definitions, we assess health among 141 Tanzanian mother-child dyads. We seek to overcome the difficulties described above by spreading our bets; we incorporate multiple health outcome measures (growth, biomarkers of immune function and iron status) and potential predictors (maternal mental health, subjective social status, food insecurity and socio-demographics). Variables were selected on the basis of validated research among populations occupying similar environments and our understanding of the physiology of stress. Preliminary analyses indicate that child and maternal nutritional status are not associated with wealth, food insecurity, maternal mental health, or subjective social status. Among children <1 year of age, high food insecurity and low subjective social status are associated with higher inflammation, an association which is partially mediated by maternal mental health. Implications for bioarchaeology include the need to consider as many health outcomes and predictors as possible and to recognize that stress may be mediated by variables such as mental health.

JD: University of Alabama College of Arts & Sciences Academy for Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity

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