Medical Anthropology Quarterly

Debilidad: A Biocultural Assessment of an Embodied Andean Illness



Northern Peruvian highlanders complain of debilidad to express an embodied exhaustion resulting from a lifelong accumulation of productive and reproductive stresses. This study uses a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods and a political-economic and materialistinformed biocultural approach to explore this "women's illness " and why is also experienced by men and children. Eighty-two percent of cases of debilidad occur in the households of postreproductive women with debilidad. For women, household sex ratio, number of pregnancies, and death of offspring are associated with the incidence of debilidad, while for men, household wealth is the most salient correlate. The young required to undertake full adult responsibilities are also vulnerable. Findings are strengthened when the household is used as the unit of analysis. [Andes, culture-bound illness, biocultural, embodiment, reproduction]