Social Rank and Adult Male Nutritional Status: Evidence of the Social Gradient in Health from a Foraging-Farming Society

Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, Institut de Ciencia i Tecnologia Ambientals, Facultat de Ciencies, Bellaterra 08193, Spain.
Social Science & Medicine (Impact Factor: 2.89). 11/2008; 67(12):2107-15. DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2008.09.029
Source: PubMed


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.

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Available from: Victoria Reyes-García
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    • "Like many indigenous Amazonian societies, Tsimane' have traditionally been endogamous and highly egalitarian (Daillant 2003). Except for the shaman --healer, priest, and political leader -we find no evidence of social stratification in the past (Ellis 1996; Reyes-García et al. 2008). "
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    • "Other sources of monetary income include the sale of various crops, such as maize, manioc, and fruit, sale of domesticated animals and animal products such as eggs, sale of forest products such as timber and firewood, wage labor in logging camps, cattle ranches, and in the homestead of highland colonist farmers and salaried work in local institutions (e.g., schools). Several historical and ethnographic studies of the Tsimane' have been published (Huanca 2006; Martínez-Rodríguez 2009; Reyes-García 2001), and in previous studies we have also analyzed Tsimane' forms of subsistence and incorporation to the market economy (Godoy et al. 2005a, 2006a, 2009; Reyes-García et al. 2008). Tsimane' society is relatively egalitarian in many ways. "
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