Center for Studies in Demography and Ecology

Melanie Martin Finds that Transition Away from Traditional Diet May Undermine Low Prevalence of Cardiovascular Disease

Posted: 11/28/2018 (CSDE Research)

Following a 5-year study of two lowland Bolivian subsistence populations’ diets, CSDE Affiliate Melanie Martin, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, found that a nutrition transition parallels increasing body fat trends, suggesting that the current low prevalence of cardiovascular disease may not persist. While traditional diets have been credited for the  cardiometabolic health of subsistence populations, their ongoing nutrition transitions have been linked to the increase in chronic noncommunicable diseases.

The study characterizes and compares dietary profiles of 2 neighboring subsistence populations and identifies dietary factors contributing to low cardiovascular disease risk. Researchers estimated nutrient intake via recall and questionnaires among 1299 Tsimane and 229 Moseten men and women. They constructed population-level estimates of energy intake, dietary diversity, and nutrient shortfalls and analyzed dietary changes over time and space. Last, they compared the dietary profiles with those of Americans.

The Tsimane diet was characterized by high energy, carbohydrate, and protein intakes, and low fat intake and diversity. Energy and carbohydrate intake, as well as consumption of food additives (lard, oil, sugar, salt), increased significantly during the study, particularly in villages near market towns. In general, the more-acculturated Moseten consumed more sugar and oil. They concluded that a high-energy diet is associated with low cardiovascular disease risk when coupled with a physically active lifestyle, but that a transition away from such diet is a salient health risk for transitioning populations.

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