One of the strengths of a biocultural perspective in anthropology is its broad approach to understanding human biology and health (Wiley and Allen 2008). Such a framework seems particularly appropriate when looking at the fascinating phenomenon of SUDS (Sudden Unexplained Death During Sleep). Though SUDS first appeared in the medical literature 1917 in the Philippines, where it is referred to as ‘bangungut’ (Guazon 1917), it was largely forgotten until the late 1970s when it regained notoriety as an important cause of mortality among Southeast Asian refugees in the United States, particularly among young men (Baron et al 1983).
At the population level, childhood growth is often seen as a marker of health and the quality of the environment. When populations get taller in a few generations, this is likely due to some improvement in local conditions (better nutrition, less infection, cleaner water supply, etc.). Conversely, when linear growth declines, it is usually because local conditions (ecological, economic, political) have deteriorated. Two recent working papers illustrate how this pattern applies to war conditions.
I’ll be in Seattle April 22-25 at a conference on War and Global Health at the University of Washington.
My session is Saturday, April 24 at 11AM (War and Children). I’m really looking forward to it.
A recent study on child obesity by researchers at Harvard has received a good deal of media attention lately. In the NY Times, a synopsis of the study was one of the most emailed articles in the country (“Baby Fat May Not Be So Cute After All,” March 22). The key sentence from that article:
“More and more evidence points to pivotal events very early in life — during the toddler years, infancy and even before birth, in the womb — that can set young children on an obesity trajectory that is hard to alter by the time they’re in kindergarten.”