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Am J Hum Biol. 2015 Nov-Dec;27(6):798-806. doi: 10.1002/ajhb.22725. Epub 2015 May 11.

Surname-inferred Andean ancestry is associated with child stature and limb lengths at high altitude in Peru, but not at sea level.

Author information

Newnham College, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom.
Division of Biological Anthropology, Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom.
Childhood Nutrition Research Centre, UCL Institute of Child Health, University College London, London, United Kingdom.
Division of Respiratory Medicine, The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
CRONICAS Center of Excellence in Chronic Diseases and Department of Medicine, School of Medicine, Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia, Lima, Peru.
Department of Obstetrics/Gynecology, University of Colorado Denver, Aurora, Colorado.
Population, Policy and Practice Programme, UCL Institute of Child Health, University College London, United Kingdom.



Native Andean ancestry gives partial protection from reduced birthweight at high altitude in the Andes compared with European ancestry. Whether Andean ancestry is also associated with body proportions and greater postnatal body size at altitude is unknown. Therefore, we tested whether a greater proportion of Andean ancestry is associated with stature and body proportions among Peruvian children at high and low altitude.


Height, head circumference, head-trunk height, upper and lower limb lengths, and tibia, ulna, hand and foot lengths, were measured in 133 highland and 169 lowland children aged 6 months to 8.5 years. For highland and lowland groups separately, age-sex-adjusted anthropometry z scores were regressed on the number of indigenous parental surnames as a proxy for Andean ancestry, adjusting for potential confounders (maternal age and education, parity, altitude [highlands only]).


Among highland children, greater Andean ancestry was negatively associated with stature and tibia, ulna, and lower limb lengths, independent of negative associations with greater altitude for these measurements. Relationships were strongest for tibia length: each additional Andean surname or 1,000 m increase at altitude among highland children was associated with 0.18 and 0.65 z score decreases in tibia length, respectively. Anthropometry was not significantly associated with ancestry among lowland children.


Greater Andean ancestry is associated with shorter stature and limb measurements at high but not low altitude. Gene-environment interactions between high altitude and Andean ancestry may exacerbate the trade-off between chest dimensions and stature that was proposed previously, though we could not test this directly.

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