Human energetics methods in biological anthropology

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Abstract

Energy capture and conversion is fundamental to human existence, and over the past three decades anthropologists have used a number of approaches which incorporate energetics measures in studies of human ecology. In particular, measures of community-level energy balances and flows have been used to study human subsistence within the adaptability framework. Recent advances in energetics methodology are considerable, making measurements more practicable and accurate. They include the following: the development of less invasive methods for the measurement of energy expenditure in the field; improvements in, and reevaluation of, older techniques for energy expenditure measurement; and an improved understanding of the physiological basis of adaptation to high and low energy intakes. This article describes and evaluates field methods currently available for estimating energy intake, expenditure, and storage.

All three types of method can be used to examine energy balance over periods of more than a month, and energy nutritional stress in individuals and communities. Energy intake measures are the least accurate and most time-consuming, while anthropometric body composition methods are the most robust in a wide variety of field conditions. Energy expenditure methods are intermediate in accuracy, but they can be used to address issues of work output, physical performance, and metabolic adaptation, as well as short-term energy balance. © 1992 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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