Assessment and characterization of the diet of an isolated population in the Bolivian Andes

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Abstract

Objectives: The goal of this research is to characterize the composition and nutrient adequacy of the diets in the northern region of the Department of Potosí, Bolivia. Communities in this semiarid, mountainous region are isolated and impoverished having the highest rates of child malnutrition and under-five mortality in the Americas.

Methods: A total of 2,222 twenty-four-hour dietary recalls were conducted in 30 communities during May and November 2006 and May and November 2007. Food composition data were compiled from diverse published sources and integrated with the recall data to estimate intakes of energy, protein, fat, carbohydrates, and seven micronutrients. Diets were characterized in terms of food sources, seasonality, and nutrient adequacy.

Results: The diet relies heavily on the potato and other tubers (54% of dietary energy) and grains (30% of dietary energy). Although crop production is seasonal, off-season consumption of chuño helps to minimize seasonal fluctuations in dietary energy intake. Despite relative monotony, intakes of iron, vitamin C, most B vitamins, and vitamin A in adults are probably adequate; riboflavin, calcium, and vitamin A intakes in children are low. Nevertheless, extremely low dietary fat intakes (approximately 3–9% of dietary energy from fat) likely prevent adequate absorption of fat-soluble vitamins as well as lead to deficiencies of essential fatty acids.

Conclusions: Dietary inadequacies, especially of fats, may explain much of the poor health observed in northern Potosí. An improved diet may be possible through increasing production and intake of local fat-rich food sources such as small animals. Am. J. Hum. Biol., 2010. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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