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Infant and fetal mortality among a high fertility and mortality population in the Bolivian Amazon


  • Gurven, Michael


Indigenous populations experience higher rates of poverty, disease and mortality than non-indigenous populations. To gauge current and future risks among Tsimane Amerindians of Bolivia, I assess mortality rates and growth early in life, and changes in risks due to modernization, based on demographic interviews conducted Sept. 2002–July 2005. Tsimane have high fertility (total fertility rate = 9) and infant mortality (13%). Infections are the leading cause of infant death (55%). Infant mortality is greatest among women who are young, monolingual, space births close together, and live far from town. Infant mortality declined during the period 1990–2002, and a higher rate of reported miscarriages occurred during the 1950–1989 period. Infant deaths are more frequent among those born in the wet season. Infant stunting, underweight and wasting are common (34%, 15% and 12%, respectively) and greatest for low-weight mothers and high parity infants. Regression analysis of infant growth shows minimal regional differences in anthropometrics but greater stunting and underweight during the first two years of life. Males are more likely to be underweight, wasted, and spontaneously aborted. Whereas morbidity and stunting are prevalent in infancy, greater food availability later in life has not yet resulted in chronic diseases (e.g. hypertension, atherosclerosis and diabetes) in adulthood due to the relatively traditional Tsimane lifestyle.

Suggested Citation

  • Gurven, Michael, 2012. "Infant and fetal mortality among a high fertility and mortality population in the Bolivian Amazon," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 75(12), pages 2493-2502.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:75:y:2012:i:12:p:2493-2502
    DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2012.09.030

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Blackwell, Debra L. & Hayward, Mark D. & Crimmins, Eileen M., 2001. "Does childhood health affect chronic morbidity in later life?," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 52(8), pages 1269-1284, April.
    2. Godoy, Ricardo A. & Leonard, William R. & Reyes-Garcia, Victoria & Goodman, Elizabeth & McDade, Thomas & Huanca, Tomas & Tanner, Susan & Vadez, Vincent, 2006. "Physical stature of adult Tsimane' Amerindians, Bolivian Amazon in the 20th century," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 4(2), pages 184-205, June.
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    Cited by:

    1. Martin, Melanie A. & Garcia, Geni & Kaplan, Hillard S. & Gurven, Michael D., 2016. "Conflict or congruence? Maternal and infant-centric factors associated with shorter exclusive breastfeeding durations among the Tsimane," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 170(C), pages 9-17.
    2. Veile, Amanda & Martin, Melanie & McAllister, Lisa & Gurven, Michael, 2014. "Modernization is associated with intensive breastfeeding patterns in the Bolivian Amazon," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 100(C), pages 148-158.


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