Minimal information on physical activity is available for non-Western populations undergoing the transition to a market economy. This is unfortunate given the importance of these data for understanding health issues such as the global obesity epidemic. We consider the utility of using accelerometry technology to examine activity patterns and energy use regulation among indigenous Shuar, an Ecuadorian forager-horticulturalist population undergoing economic and lifestyle change. We investigate sex differences in Shuar activity patterns and the effects of reproductive status on activity. Finally, we discuss the potential of accelerometry use in human biology research.
Physical activity levels were measured using Actical accelerometers in 49 indigenous Shuar adults (23 males, 26 females) from a rural Ecuadorian community. Female participants were in various reproductive states including pregnant, lactating, and nonpregnant/nonlactating.
Activity counts (AC), activity energy expenditure (AEE), and physical activity levels (PAL) were significantly higher (P < 0.05) in males than females. Significant differences in energy expenditure were found among pregnant or lactating females and males with pregnant or lactating partners (P < 0.001). Males with pregnant or lactating partners also had significantly higher activity levels than did other men (P < 0.01).
Shuar activity levels are relatively low compared to other non-Western populations. Despite increasing market integration, pregnant and lactating females seem to be adopting a strategy noted in other subsistence populations where male participation in subsistence activities increases to compensate for their partners' elevated reproductive costs. Despite certain limitations, use of accelerometry in human biology research shows promise. Am. J. Hum. Biol. 2011. © 2011 Wiley-Liss, Inc.