New paper from Professor Claudia Valeggia: “The ecology of anemia: Anemia prevalence and correlated factors in adult indigenous women in Argentina”

January 24, 2017



The Toba/Qom of Namqom are an indigenous community native to the Gran Chaco region of northern Argentina. Historically seminomadic foragers, the diet of peri-urban community members has rapidly changed from high-protein, high-fiber to hypercaloric, processed. This study aims to understand the impact of this nutritional transition on aspects of women’s health by exploring the relationship between prevalence of anemia and current diet composition, place of birth, and reproductive history.


We measured the capillary hemoglobin (Hb) levels of 153 adult women. Each participant was also given two interviews characterizing reproductive history and a 24-hour food recall.


The average Hb level was 12.6 g/dL (range 5.8–15.7 g/dL). In our sample, 28% of participants were anemic and 31% were borderline anemic. Iron and vitamin C consumption were negatively associated with Hb levels. Body mass index was marginally associated with Hb levels. Being born in a peri-urban setting, a proxy for early Westernized diet was associated with higher risk of anemia, suggesting developmental experience may play a role. Pregnant and lactating women had lower Hb levels than menstruating and menopausal women. Age, height, parity, and age at first pregnancy were not found to be statistically significant predictors of anemia.


Iron deficiency represents a serious health concern for women, particularly pregnant ones. Our results suggest that both past and current nutritional ecology variables may be associated with the risk of anemia. These findings inform public health interventions, since reproductive history may be more difficult to modify than current diet.

Click here to access the article in the American Journal of Human Biology.