MELANIE VENTO, then a student at Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, was awarded funding in May 2008 to aid research on 'Evolutionary Perspectives on the Emergence of Chronic Metabolic Diseases in an Amazonian Bolivian Population,' supervised by Dr. William R. Leonard. This research among the Tsimane' builds on recent findings to shed light on why transitional populations may experience greater risk of obesity and chronic disease under conditions of rapid social change. The recent finding that inflammation -- an immune process stimulated by both infection and obesity -- is integral to cardiovascular disease (CVD) suggests that individuals in transitional populations (experiencing both pathogenic physical environments and weight gain) will face a double burden of harmful inflammatory stimuli, placing them at greater risk for CVD. Furthermore, for developing populations, the joint effects of under-nutrition and high infectious disease load in childhood may contribute to both small body size and depressed metabolic rates leaving adults particularly at risk for the development of obesity and associated chronic disorders when exposed to a more urbanized diet and lifestyle. This study integrates these perspectives to test a novel model for the role of population adaptation in the rise of chronic disease under conditions of social change. Adopting the developmental origins of health and disease framework, which recognizes the importance of early life adaptive physiological changes to a predicted future environment, the research investigates the roles that diet, activity, metabolism, and inflammation play in chronic disease risk when increased market exposure leads to shifts in nutritional status across the life course. More specifically, the study examines: 1) how greater market integration is associated with adult weight gain and chronic disease risk; 2) the role of adiposity, infection, and pathogenicity on inflammation (C-reactive protein levels); and 3) whether the combined influence of poor early nutritional environments (indicated by leg length), low metabolism and small size place Tsimane' at greater risk for obesity and CVD in adulthood.
Dissertation Fieldwork Grant
Vento, Melanie, Northwestern U., Evanston, IL - To aid research on 'Evolutionary Perspectives on the Emergence of Chronic Metabolic Diseases in an Amazonian Bolivian Population,' supervised by Dr. William R. Leonard