Intergenerational Impacts of Culture Change: Traditional food and the metabolic functioning of Alaska Native peoples

Project: Research project

Project Details


Anthropological studies conducted from Samoa to Siberia have demonstrated consequences of cultural change on human biological variation. Findings point to market integration, “Westernization,” “acculturation,” and other social transitions as determinants of changes in diet and lifestyle that lead to increased obesity and metabolic dysregulation in affected populations. While the majority of this research has focused on the direct impacts of such shifts on adult biology, recent work is focusing attention on early life critical periods when experiences can lead to durable biological changes that alter developmental biology and long-term health. As a recent manifestation of this idea, rising rates of maternal obesity, gestational weight gain (GWG), and high blood glucose and triglycerides may be creating an evolutionarily novel, gestational milieu that promotes faster fetal growth, higher birth weights, adiposity, and metabolic dysregulation in offspring. This emerging evidence supports a new hypothesis: the impacts of culture change on human biology do not end with the individual who directly experiences it, but may also be transmitted, via an altered in utero environment, to the next generation. The proposed study aims to test this model of an intergenerational impact of culture change among Alaska Native mother-infant dyads by comparing dietary intake (traditional vs. Western foods) with maternal obesity, GWG, pregnancy metabolism and fetal/infancy growth and adiposity in offspring. Recent and still ongoing cultural and dietary transitions among Alaska Native groups provide a valuable opportunity to evaluate maternal metabolism as a pathway linking rapid culture change with altered growth, body composition and health outcomes in offspring.
Effective start/end date4/15/1612/31/18


  • Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research (Letter 10/06/2015)


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