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

Health research in biological anthropology: Integrating evolutionary and biocultural approaches


1Department of Anthropology, University of Oregon, 2Department of Anthropology, Northwestern University

Thursday 2:30-2:45, Ballroom A Add to calendar

Over the past several decades, the study of population-level health by biological anthropologists has become increasingly sophisticated as a result of growth in both evolutionary and biocultural approaches. Despite these advances, studies are often framed as either evolutionary or biocultural, foregrounding either an adaptive approach focused on ultimate causation or one that emphasizes proximate factors such as political, economic, and historical processes. This is unfortunate because biological anthropology is uniquely positioned to understand the mechanisms responsible for distinctive population-level health outcomes by: 1) utilizing integrative models that incorporate proximate and ultimate factors; and 2) integrating theory and methods from other anthropological subfields and sister disciplines such as epidemiology, human physiology, and the social/behavioral sciences.

The present paper illustrates the utility of this multidisciplinary approach through a discussion of research by the Indigenous Siberian Health and Adaptation Project among the Yakut (Sakha), a high-latitude herding group from northeastern Siberia. This project combines research into metabolic adaptation to cold stress with an investigation of the health effects of economic and social change on native Siberians in the post-Soviet period. Results indicate important links between metabolic elevation and chronic disease pattern, which helps explain the distinctive health changes experienced by indigenous Siberians in the context of globalization (i.e., high rates of hypertension yet relatively favorable lipid profiles). These findings highlight the importance of considering regional adaptive patterns when investigating global health variation and, more broadly, underscore the need for biological anthropology models that integrate environmental exposure with underlying differences in susceptibility.

Support: NSF ARC-0802390; Leakey Foundation; Sigma Xi; Wenner-Gren Foundation (6884); Northwestern University; University of Oregon; FSRI Institute of Health

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