The Shuar of Amazonian Ecuador
The Shuar are a large Indigenous population living primarily in Amazonian Ecuador. Historically forager-horticulturalists, they are currently experiencing varying degrees of integration into the regional/global market economy. Many Shuar now live in market centers, engage in regular wage labor, and have diets and lifestyles similar to people living in the US. Other Shuar living in more isolated rural areas continue to practice a subsistence-based way of life. In these areas, there remains a heavy burden of infectious disease and childhood growth faltering is common. Troublingly, obesity and chronic diseases (e.g., hypertension, type-2 diabetes) are now also on the rise among the Shuar. This context of rapid but highly diverse lifestyle and health transition provides opportunities for impactful science and outreach.
Our research with the Shuar is performed as part of The Shuar Health and Life History Project (SHLHP), a highly collaborative interdisciplinary research effort initiated in Ecuador in 2005. We are interested in underderstanding how Shuar manage (and often thrive) in adverse contexts. Much of this work to date has investigated how Shuar children spend calories and the energetic relationships between children’s physical growth, market integration, stress, and immune activity. Among other findings, we have shown that highly active Shuar children spend no more calories each day than children living in the US, a phenomenon that appears to be driven by underlying energetic trade-offs limiting child growth. This work informs understanding of the obesity transition in LMICs.
Our research with the Shuar has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the Leakey Foundation, and others. We have the pleasure or working with many US, international, and local collaborators, including the Federación Interprovincial de Centros Shuar and Dr. Enrique Terán at USFQ. A full list of funders and collaborators can be found on the SHLHP website.
Recent Key Publications
Childhood Daily Energy Expenditure Does Not Decrease with Market Integration and Is Not Related to Adiposity in Amazonia – The Journal of Nutrition, Urlacher et al. (2021).
Constraint and trade-offs regulate energy expenditure during childhood – Science Advances, Urlacher et al. (2019).
Trade-offs between immune activity and childhood growth among Amazonian forager-horticulturalists – PNAS, Urlacher et al. (2018).
Heterogeneous effects of market integration on sub-adult body size and nutritional status among the Shuar of Amazonian Ecuador – Annals of Human Biology, Urlacher et al. (2016).