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Am J Clin Nutr. 1993 May;57(5):620-8.

Seasonality of energy expenditure during pregnancy and lactation for rural Nepali women.

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Department of Anthropology, Durham University, UK.


Total energy expenditure (TEE) was estimated for 19 nonpregnant, nonlactating (NPNL) and 24 pregnant (P) or lactating (L) women from 3601 h of minute-by-minute observation and 168 measurements of the energy cost of activities. NPNL women significantly increased subsistence activity and TEE from 9.9 MJ [1.89 x basal metabolic rate (BMR)] in the winter to 10.5 MJ (2.01 x BMR) in the monsoon season. There were differences between NPNL,P, and L women in the winter, but not in the spring or monsoon season when all individuals sustained very heavy physical activity. High TEE values resulted from spending very long hours in tasks that, although appearing physically demanding to the casual observer, were characterized by light or moderate energy cost. The study highlights the importance of seasonal constraints on women's work, which prevent P and L women from significantly curtailing physical activity during the monsoon season, and which effectively limit the scope of behavioral mechanisms for saving energy and reducing TEE.


In Salme, Nepal, a remote rural village high in the Himalayas, an anthropologist directly observed 19 nonpregnant, nonlactating (NPNL) women and 24 pregnant or lactating women for 3601 hours on 297 single days (11 hours/day in the winter and 13 hours/day in the monsoon season). She also measured the energy cost of their activities. The women were subsistence farmers and of the Tamang ethnic group, the largest in Nepal. This study aimed to estimate these women's daily energy expenditure (EE) and to examine the effect of seasonality, pregnancy, and lactation on regular physical activity. Total EE (TEE) values increased significantly during the spring and monsoon season for all women. NPNL women also increased considerably TEE between the winter and monsoon seasons (9.9 MJ vs. 10.5 MJ, p .05). All of the women carried on very heavy physical activity during the spring and monsoon season, but NPNL women carried on the most very heavy physical activity during the winter. The high TEE levels were not a result of short bursts of intensive activity, but rather from many hours of doing activities of low to moderate energy cost. These activities included pounding grain, hoeing fields, cutting wood, walking, and carrying 10-55 kg loads. In July-September, the women worked 5 hours in agriculture, .5 hours in animal husbandry, traveled 1 hour, and rested 1.7 hours outdoors, equaling 8.2 hours/day of doing subsistence activities. These findings indicated that women faced seasonal constraints on their work, which prevented pregnant and lactating women from considerably cutting back on physical activity during the monsoon season. This limits their options for behavioral changes to save energy and reduce TEE.

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