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Keywords:

  • anthropometric variables;
  • heterosis;
  • socioeconomic differences

Abstract

The Khasis are one of the matrilineal tribes of Meghalaya in Northeast India. They belong to the Indo-Mongoloid racial stock, and speak the Monkhmer language of the Austro-Asiatic group. They have their own traditional religion (Niam Khasi), but about 65% of them have converted to Christianity. A few Khasi members have also embraced Islam through matrimonial relationship with immigrant Muslim males. The present study was based on a cross-sectional sample of 1,351 urban Khasi boys aged 3–18 years belonging to these three religious groups, with a view to understanding the effects of socioeconomic factors on growth and nutritional status, using anthropometric variables such as weight and height. The findings showed that about 60%, 29%, and 6% of these boys were below −2 Z-scores of the US National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) references in respect of weight for age, height for age, and body mass index for age, respectively. The logistic regression coefficient (β ± standard error) indicated that the prevalence of low weight for age (below −2 Z-scores of the NCHS references) was positively associated with age (0.088 ± 0.014, P < 0.0001), while it was inversely associated with household income (−1.216 ± 0.030, P < 0.0001). Likewise, low height for age Z-score was negatively associated with household income (−1.056 ± 0.130, P < 0.0001), although such a relationship was not significant in the case of low body mass index for age (−0.169 ± 0.229, P > 0.05). There were also significant differences between religious groups in respect of anthropometric variables. Allowing for household income, the ANCOVA test indicated that Muslim Khasi boys, who were the offspring of intermarriages between Khasi females and immigrant Muslim males, were significantly heavier and taller than Christian and Niam Khasi boys almost across ages. From about 3–10 years of age, Muslim Khasi boys were, on average, comparable to the 5th and 25th percentiles of the NCHS references of height and weight, respectively. Although it looks as though genetic mechanisms like heterosis and/or gene flow might also be associated with the larger body size in Muslim boys, such a conjecture could only be substantiated or refuted by further studies concerning genetic and more socioeconomic data on both immigrant and nonimmigrant populations. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2003. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.