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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2007 Apr 10;104(15):6134-9. Epub 2007 Mar 26.

Ethnobotanical knowledge is associated with indices of child health in the Bolivian Amazon.

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  • 1Department of Anthropology, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208, USA. t-mcdade@northwestern.edu

Abstract

Culture is a critical determinant of human behavior and health, and the intergenerational transmission of knowledge regarding the use of available plant resources has historically been an essential function of culture. Local ethnobotanical knowledge is important for health and nutrition, particularly in rural low-resource settings, but cultural and economic transitions associated with globalization threaten such knowledge. This prospective study investigates the association between parental ethnobotanical knowledge and child health among the Tsimane', a horticulturalist and foraging society in Amazonian Bolivia. Anthropometric data and capillary blood samples were collected from 330 Tsimane' 2- to 10-year-olds, and mothers and fathers were interviewed to assess ethnobotanical knowledge and skills. Comprehensive measures of parental schooling, acculturation, and economic activities were also collected. Dependent variables included three measures of child health: (i) C-reactive protein, assayed in whole-blood spots as an indicator of immunostimulation; (ii) skinfold thickness, to estimate subcutaneous fat stores necessary to fuel growth and immune function; and (iii) height-for-age, to assess growth stunting. Each child health measure was associated with maternal ethnobotanical knowledge, independent of a wide range of potentially confounding variables. Each standard deviation of maternal ethnobotanical knowledge increased the likelihood of good child health by a factor of >1.5. Like many populations around the world, the Tsimane' are increasingly facing the challenges and opportunities of globalization. These results underscore the importance of local cultural factors to child health and document a potential cost if ethnobotanical knowledge is lost.

PMID:
17389376
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PMCID:
PMC1851091
Free PMC Article
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