Health and disease: Exploring the relation between parasitic infections, child nutrition status, and markets



Research in bioarchaeology and among living people provides insight into the biological and biocultural consequences of subsistence, political, and economic transitions. Central to this effort is examining infectious disease, such as diarrheal disease, respiratory infections, and parasitic infections because they are an important source of nutritional and energetic stress in both past and current groups. Although infection may not always result in overt disease, frequent exposure results in biological stress with a negative effect on child growth and, by extension, health. The goal of this article is to examine the association between a common class of infectious disease, soil-transmitted helminth worms, and nutritional status among youth living in communities that vary with respect to their distance from a commercial center. In 2007, anthropometric measurements and parasitological surveys were collected for 338 2–14-year-old children and adolescents living in lowland Bolivia as part of the Tsimane' Amazonian Panel Study. Associations between the presence of helminth infections and markers of both short- and long-term nutritional status were overall weak. Youth living in communities distant from the commercial center were more likely to be positive for multiple parasite species than youth in near communities, but youth in mid-distance communities had lower infection rates. This article demonstrates the challenge of identifying associations between nutritional and disease stress when individual and household factors are nested in a larger context of socioeconomic and environmental change. Increased collaboration between bioarchaeology and human biology should continue to examine the connections between stress and disease across time. Am J Phys Anthropol 155:221–228, 2014. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.