Health and adult productivity: The relation between adult nutrition, helminths, and agricultural, hunting, and fishing yields in the Bolivian Amazon




Infectious disease and nutritional stress have both been associated with reductions in adult work productivity and work capacity in the context of wage labor, but less research has investigated their effects among groups relying on more traditional subsistence practices of horticulture and foraging. In this article, we examine the relations among measures of adult nutritional status (BMI, skinfold measurements, and fat-free mass) and infection (presence of soil transmitted helminth infections) and measures of adult work productivity.


As part of a larger panel study among Tsimane', a foraging–horticulturalist group in the Bolivian Amazon, health surveys, anthropometric information, and the quantity of products (both crops and game) brought into the household were collected for 320 Tsimane' adults over a four-month period in 2003. In addition, a single fecal sample was collected for a sub-sample of 86 adults.


Our analysis shows mixed associations between either BMI or the presence of parasitism and reported adult productivity. Muscularity was not clearly related to adult productivity. In contrast, body fatness (Skinfold z-score) was inversely associated with the average quantity of fish and game brought into the household, especially for men.


These findings suggest that the effects of adult infection and nutritional stress may be less clearly identified outside of the context of wage labor. Further research linking adult physical activity levels and metabolic rates to productivity in diverse contexts is needed. Am. J. Hum. Biol., 2013. © 2012Wiley Periodicals, Inc.