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Ann Hum Biol. 1978 Jul;5(4):329-52.

A multinational Andean genetic and health program: growth and development in an hypoxic environment.


In 1972 a multidisciplinary study sought to assess the health status of the indigenous peoples of the Department of Arica in northern Chile, the Aymara, and to relate disease, morphological, physiological and biochemical variation, to the wide changes in altitude of the region. Presented here are the morphological changes which accompany age, altitude and ethnicity amoung 1047 children and adults, permanent residents of the coast, sierra and altiplano. At comparable ages, high-altitude residents were shorter, lighter and leaner but with more expansive and rounder chests than sea-level controls. None of these effects was systematically related to ethnicity (Spanish-Aymara surname), although when stature was held constant, children with greater Aymara ancestry had largest chest circumferences and longer bones. These results suggest that (1) altitude confers allometric growth changes (expensive growth of the chest and diminished growth of the structures less related to oxygen transport); and (2) size changes associated with altitude are acquired during development while shape changes may be under genetic control. Altitude appears to account for less of the variation in growth in this relatively homogeneous Chilean sample than has been reported for other Andean samples, suggesting other concomitants confounding the effects of hypoxia in Andean South America.

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