Nutritional, developmental, and genetic influences on relative sitting height at high altitude


  • This article was presented at the 2008 AAPA meeting in a symposium in honor of A. Roberto Frisancho, on the occasion of his retirement from the Department of Anthropology of the University of Michigan.


The study explores how nutritional status, developmental exposure to high-altitude hypoxia, and genetic ancestry influence relative sitting height in two groups of high-altitude Bolivian children aged 8 through 13 years of age: 253 rural Aymara children of very low socioeconomic status and 273 children of upper socioeconomic status from the capital city of La Paz. The rural Aymara children on average have longer trunks relative to stature, but there is also overlap in body proportions between the two groups of children. The 20% of each sample in the region of overlap was examined to investigate influences on relative sitting height. Nutritional effects on relative sitting height are suggested by the finding that Aymara children with relatively long legs are taller, heavier, and fatter than other Aymara children. Developmental and genetic influences on relative sitting height are suggested by the finding that high relative sitting heights in elite urban children are associated with a greater percentage of time lived at high altitude and with parents born in Bolivia. Separating developmental and ancestry effects is difficult because the two are closely interconnected in the urban children. The results of this study suggest that influences on growth in relative trunk and leg length are similar to those that affect other aspects of growth in Andean populations. They also highlight the fact that because relative sitting height gradually decreases prior to adolescence and then increases, the interpretation of variation in body proportions in children is not always straightforward. Am. J. Hum. Biol. 2009. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.