Research Projects

Food Security and Maternal and Child Health – Nicaragua

Approximately 1 billion people (1 in 7 individuals) suffer from food insecurity.  In 2012 with funding from the Ohio State University Office of Outreach and Engagement and Office of International Affairs we began a multi-disciplinary, international study of the interactions between food insecurity, maternal mental and physical health and child health in Nicaragua, the second poorest country in the western hemisphere. The research team included anthropologists, sociologists, epidemiologists, medical doctors, nurses and social workers from the United States and Nicaragua, as well as undergraduate and graduate students from OSU.  In a random sample of 500 households in rural and urban zones around Leon, Nicaragua we administered a detailed survey that explored perceived household-level food security, household economics, maternal power and social support, household food consumption patterns and maternal and child health,  including mental and physical health and anthropometric measures (height, weight, hemoglobin). Based on our finding that only 50% of the poorest household actually reported food insecurity, we returned to Nicaragua in the summer of 2013 to conduct a more detailed study of household and individual-level food consumption patterns and further explore how social support, maternal power and mental health were related to reported food insecurity.   

Schmeer K, Piperata BA, Herrera A, Salazar M. 2015. Maternal resources and household food security: evidence from Nicaragua. Public Health Nutrition. doi:10.1017/S1368980014003000.

Schmeer KK, Piperata BA. In press. The effects of household food insecurity on child health. Maternal & Child Nutrition.

Maternal Strategies for Managing the Energetic Demands of Reproduction – Brazilian Amazon

One of my central research interest is understanding how human females evolved both biologically and culturally to manage the energetic demands of pregnancy and lactation.  Did you know that a breastfeeding women needs approximately 500 extra kcal a day?  To meet this energetic demand, women can theoretically (1) eat more, (2) reduce their energy expenditure in other activities (or by becoming more metabolically efficient) or (3) draw on their energy reserves (body fat).  The strategy a woman employs is related to her physical and social context and has consequences for her own reproductive success.  Since 2002, I have been working with women in the rural Amazon to explore how they cope with the competing demands of breastfeeding and food production.  Detailed, longitudinal data revealed a number of interesting findings including: (1) that of all the places women store fat, reserves in the gluteal / femoral region (you know, the hips and thighs where lots of us women tend to store fat) declined the most indicating that these particular female reserves may be important for supporting reproductive effort, and (2) that women with greater social support (in food provisioning and assistance with work) lost less weight over the course of lactation than those with less support. Considering the demonstrated relationship between negative energy balance (i.e. weight loss) and sub-fecundity (and thus birth spacing), this finding suggests that social support  directed at new mothers may have been central to our ability as a species to reduce birth spacing and therefore increase our reproductive success.  You can learn more about this research in the following  publications….

Vercellotti G, Piperata BA. 2012. The use of biocultural data in interpreting sex differences in body proportions among rural Amazonians. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 147:113-127.

Piperata BA, Gooden Mattern L. 2011. Breastfeeding structure and women’s work in the Brazilian Amazon. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 144:226-237.

Piperata BA. 2009. Variation in maternal strategies during lactation: the role of the biosocial context. American Journal of Human Biology, 21:817-827.

Piperata BA. 2008. Forty days and forty nights: A biocultural perspective on postpartum practices in the Amazon. Social Science and Medicine, 67:1094-1103.

Piperata BA, Dufour DL. 2007. Diet, energy expenditure and body composition of lactating Ribeirinha women in the Brazilian Amazon. American Journal of Human Biology19:722-34.

Piperata BA, Dufour DL, Reina JC, Spurr GB. 2001. Anthropometric characteristics of pregnant women in Cali, Colombia and their relation to infant birth weight. American Journal of Human Biology 14:29-38.

 Tracking the Nutrition Transition – Brazilian Amazon

Changing food consumption and work patterns and accompanying chronic diseases associated with global economic changes is referred to as the nutrition transition.  While we have a good understanding of broad-scale trends in this latest epidemiological transition, a more nuanced look reveals significant variation in its pace and geographic distribution, as well as its health effects of varying segments of the population.  We also have few data on the early stages of the transition.  Anthropology, with its interest in understanding how global processes intersect with local populations and its attention to intra-population variation has much to contribute to our understanding of the nutrition transition – including the factors that drive it and its implications for human health.  My longitudinal research in the rural Amazon provided me the opportunity to literally watch this transition take place as the rural communities I have been working shifted from primarily subsistence farming to greater interaction with and dependence upon the region market economy for their survival.  In this setting I have been particularly interested in exploring the varied effects changes in subsistence strategies are having on adults versus children, as well as men versus women.  I am also interested in tracking changing tastes and accompanying food preferences during the early stages of the transition. Key findings from my Amazonian research include the beneficial effects of shifts in subsistence strategies on child growth but negative effects on women’s perceptions of household food security.  The following research articles provide greater detail on this work…. 

Piperata BA, McSweeney K, Murrieta RS. In press. Conditional Cash Transfers, Food Security and Health: biocultural insights for poverty-alleviation policy from the Brazilian Amazon. Current Anthropology.

Piperata BA, Schmeer KK, Hadley C, Ritchie-Ewing G. 2013. Maternal-child nutritional buffering in the Brazilian Amazon: the role of household and individual-level factors. Social Science and Medicine 96: 183-191.

Piperata BA, Spence JE, da Gloria P, Hubbe M. 2011. The nutrition transition in Amazonia: Rapid economic change and its impact on growth and development in Ribeirinhos. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 146:1-13.

Piperata BA, Ivanova SA, da Gloria P, Veiga G, Polsky A, Spence JE, Murrieta RSS. 2011. Nutrition in transition: dietary patterns of rural Amazonian women during a period of economic change. American Journal of Human Biology, 23:458-469.

Piperata BA. 2007. The nutritional status of Ribeirinhos in Brazil and the nutrition transition.  American Journal of Physical Anthropology 133:868-878.

Publications from other research collaborations

Healy Profitós J, Lee S, Mouhaman A, Garabed R, Moritz M, Piperata BA, Lee J. In press. Neighborhood diversity of potentially pathogenic bacteria in drinking water from the city of Maroua, Cameroon. Journal of Water and Health.

Healy Profitós J, Mouhaman A, Lee S, Garabed R, Moritz M, Piperata BA, Tien J, Bisesi M, Lee J. 2014. Muddying the Waters: A New Area of Concern for Drinking Water Contamination in Cameroon. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 11:12454-12472.

Piperata BA, Dufour L. In press. “On the lookout: The use of direct observation in nutritional anthropology”. In: Brett J and Chrzan J, editors. Research Methods in the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition. Berghahn Books.

Dufour L, Piperata BA. In press. Extant methods manuals, examples and study design in biocultural food/nutritional anthropology. In: Brett J and Chrzan J, editors. Research Methods in the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition. Berghahn Books.

Piperata BA, Hubbe M., Schmeer KK. 2014. Intra-population variation in anemia status and its relationship to self-perceived health and income in the Mexican Family Life Survey: implications for bioarchaeology. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 155: 210-220.

Vercelloti G, Piperata BA, Agnew AM, Wilson WM, Dufour DL, Boano R, Justus HM, Larsen CS, Stout SD, Sciulli PW. 2014. Exploring the multidimensionality of stature variation in the past through comparisons of archaeological and living populations. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 155: 229-242.

Adams C, Piperata BA. 2014. Ecologia Humana, Saúde e Nutrição na Amazônia. In: Guimarães Viera IC, Mann de Toledo, P, Araújo Oliveira Santos Jr. R, editors. Ambiente e Sociedade na Amazônia: Uma Abordagem Interdisciplinar. Belém: Museu Parense Emílio Goeldi.

Adams C, Munari LC, Van Vliet N, Murrieta RSS, Piperata BA, Futemma C, Pedroso Jr. N, Taqueda C, Crevelaro MA, Spressola V. 2013. Diversifying incomes and losing landscape complexity in Quilombo shifting cultivation communities from the Atlantic Rainforest (Brazil). Human Ecology. 41: 119-137.

Wilson W, Bulkan J, Piperata B, Hicks K, Ehlers P. 2011. Nutritional status of Makushi Amerindian Children and Adolescents of Guyana. Annals of Human Biology, 38:615-629.

Dufour DL, Piperata BA. 2008. Energy expenditure among farmers in developing countries: What do we know? American Journal of Human Biology 20:249-258.

Dufour DL, Piperata BA. 2004. Rural-to-urban migration in Latin America: An update and thoughts on the model. American Journal of Human Biology 16:395-404.

Piperata BA, Dufour DL, Reina JC, Spurr GB. 2001. Anthropometric characteristics of pregnant women in Cali, Colombia and their relation to infant birth weight. American Journal of Human Biology 14:29-38.

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