Biosocial responses to seasonal food stress in highland Peru.

Human Biology (Impact Factor: 1.52). 03/1989; 61(1):65-85.
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT This paper examines patterns of seasonal variation in food consumption and responses to food stress in the highland community of Nuñoa, Peru. Dietary and anthropometric data collected from January through August of 1985 on a sample of 26 households (127 individuals) are analyzed. This study finds sharp seasonal differences in energy intake (pre-harvest = 1150 calories/day; post-harvest = 1519/day; p less than 0.01) associated with variation in the availability of locally-produced products (e.g., tubers and cereals). Seasonal energy reduction, however, does not uniformly affect all sectors of this population. Children experience little seasonal change in energy intake and have a more adequate pre-harvest diet and better nutritional status than adults. The responses used to "protect" children from energy stress and minimize the overall impact of seasonal food scarcity on this community include: 1) reduction of pre-harvest household caloric needs through emigration of adolescent and adult males, 2) preferential allocation of food to children during the pre-harvest period, 3) seasonal reduction of activity levels and the year-round use of children for many productive activities, and 4) seasonal changes in meal patterns that minimize post-prandial energy loss during periods of stress. Evaluation of similar data from other anthropological populations underscores the diversity of responses to seasonal change in food availability. Moreover, these data indicate that the protection of children from seasonal energy stress is more common than previously thought. Variation in adaptive responses to food stress appears to be dependent upon 1) the nature of the subsistence economy, 2) the relative contributions of children and adults to household production, and 3) the demographic structure of the population.

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