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Abstract

In traditional economies, body size, physical work capacity, subsistence productivity, and nutrition of adults may be interrelated, and one cross-generational effect of these relationships may operate through the household, influencing nutritional status of children. In this analysis, the relationships among adult body size, work productivity in terms of time spent making sago starch, dietary diversity, nutrient availability, and childhood nutritional status are examined in the Purari population of Papua New Guinea, a group largely dependent on the starchy staple palm sago, which is devoid of all nutrients apart from energy. Observations of work scheduling, household food and nutrient availability, and nutritional status were carried out for 16 women, their households, and their children. A multiple regression model of hours spent in sago making on a particular day with days spent in other subsistence activities showed a negative relationship with the number of days spent in sago-making and a positive relationship with the number of days spent fishing. The number of hours spent in sago-making on a particular day was also positively related to daily per capita availability of protein at the household level. This is not a function of maternal nutritional status, however, since there is no association between body size of adult females and the number of hours spent making sago on a particular day. Nor does the greater per capita protein availability at the household level in households where women spend longer on a particular day in sago-making result in improved childhood nutritional status. Since relationships among adult body size, work productivity, dietary diversity, nutrient availability, and childhood nutritional status are only partially demonstrated in this population, it may be that these linkages may only be important if physically arduous work is needed more consistently than is the case in the Purari delta. Am. J. Hum. Biol. 15:472–478, 2003. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.