Effects of Anemia on Malnourished Indigenous Children in Latin America

There are an indisputably large number of indigenous people residing in Latin America. According to UNICEF, there are approximately 50 million indigenous people living in Latin America The World Health Organization (WHO) defines ‘indigenous’ by a list of attributes such as: “those recognized and accepted by their community as indigenous, or those that demonstrate historical continuity with pre-colonial societies; peoples with distinct social, economic, or political systems and groups that maintain distinct languages, cultures, and beliefs The Quechua is the largest of the indigenous groups with 10 million people as part of their communities. These people have learned to thrive and adapt in some of them most demanding environments. Most of these communities have built their livelihoods and economical survival solely based upon agriculture and domestication of animals alone to survive, primarily in the Andes Mountain There, they are subjected to high-altitude, cold temperatures, and low oxygen levels. There are multiple studies in the literature exploring the effects on the Quechua people living in the typical environment of the Andes Mountain A prominent adaptation such studies observed involved the body proportions found in indigenous groups living in the mountains. These people tend to be smaller and exhibit shorter limbs than their neighboring communities that reside in low-altitude areas It is often assumed that overtime, acclimatization in the mountains resulted in their inability to grow as tall due to the biological necessity to retain heat better over a smaller surface area However, later studies indicate that this is a sign of high levels of stunting as a result of poverty and limited resources. This brings us to the issue of poverty and malnutrition going hand in hand as the cause of poor growth and increased mortality rates in indigenous children.

Stunting or poor growth is when a child experiences low height compared to what is expected for their age. Stunting is basically chronic malnutrition as it is the most apparent attribute resulting from that condition. This can be caused by, in combinations of, general poverty, poor dietary intake, infections cause by diseases, micronutrient deficiencies, sanitary conditions and the inability of the caretaker to provide the child with adequate care such as access to necessary health care services, medication or food The primary factor contributing to these causes is the fact that indigenous groups mainly live in isolated communities, whether it’s because of socio-economical or geographrapical reasons, further restricting the availability of services that would promote improved growth in the children At present, the prevalence of stunting and chronic malnutrition is the best measure for the magnitude of the children’s health and nutritional status.

In addition to stunting, infant mortality rates (IMR) also act as an indicator of the socio-economic conditions indigenous people have to endure due to poverty. According to UNICEF, child deaths are usually caused directly or indirectly by malnutrition 50% of the time. There is a strong correlation between stunting and IMR The difference of IMR and chronic malnutrition in indigenous children of Latin America varies depending on the average country it is being compared to. According to the data UNICEF reported in 2000, Bolivia had the greatest percent (71%) of indigenous people making up their total population and had the highest IMR of indigenous children nationally with 67 deaths (between birth and 1 years old) per 1,000 live births Infant and child mortality rates demonstrate the grievances of infections disease in certain areas. This indicates that the health services being rendered are insufficient. On the other hand, Guatemala suffered the highest reports of chronic malnutrition of indigenous children. Further insight to this issue is that stunted growth and high infant mortality are more likely in children who have grown up in rural areas whereas the average ‘non-indigenous’ children have better growth and mortality rate due to better living conditions from being in more urban areas According to UNICEF, “A child living in a rural area is between 1.5 and 3.7 times more likely to be underweight than a child living in an urban area. Similarly, indigenous children are four time more likely to be underweight than urban children”

Eating a well balanced diet with the proper amount of nutrients is important in the child’s growth, especially at a critical age when their bones needs nourishment to keep growing. Correcting micronutrient deficiencies is therefore imperative in restoring growth and improving health in children with chronic malnutrition. One of the most common nutritional deficiencies in the world is iron deficiency According to studies done on iron deficiency, there is an increased requirement of iron in relation to the increased formation of new body mass during times of accelerated growth. Therefore, small infants and pregnant women are especially susceptible to developing this condition due to low dietary intake of iron, low intake of other nutrients that promotes iron bioavailability, and poor iron absorption in the body A severe case of iron deficiency can lead to anemia During this condition, the body is unable to produce mature, healthy red blood cells. The primary function of red blood cells is to carry oxygen throughout the different tissues of the body. Iron is the key ingredient that allows red blood cells to carry oxygen. A secondary function is its involvement in energy production when metabolized by mitochondrial cellsAs a result, having iron deficiency anemia presents with symptoms including shortness of breath and easily fatigued. A further complication with this condition is having a weaker immune system so the individual becomes more vulnerable to infections This is especially difficult for children because it prevents them from participating in physical activities. Some studies also indicate that iron deficiency affects intellectual development, mood regulation and overall school performance of the child

Anemia is more prevalent in children that are from poor families with low socioeconomic status Furthermore, the World Bank refers to indigenous people to be among the poorest and more vulnerable to diseases. Therefore, it is no surprise that indigenous children are more predisposed to developing anemia in consequence to chronic malnutrition. The very first survey on the prevalence of anemia among indigenous children was conducted in 2008-2009 utilizing a sample size of indigenous and non-indigenous children in Brazil for comparison The scholars conducting the study in 2013 found that anemia had an overall prevalence of 51.2%. Indigenous children had twice the pervasive rate for anemia than non-indigenous children Furthermore, they associate anemia with socio-economic factors that contributed to a high risk for anemia such as “lower maternal schooling, lower household socioeconomic status, poorer sanitary conditions, presence of maternal anemia, and anthropometric deficits” The fact that there is a family history of anemia demonstrates the future implications that the child will experience as they grow up and have their own children. Recent studies show increasing concern for this pattern and offer different preventative measures to reduce the prevalence rate of anemia in children

The Quechuan children are especially at high risk of developing anemia because they are easily exposed to parasitic and bacteria infections that may become chronic or recurring, poor sanitation, and limited access to clean water due to dependence on unsafe   sources. In addition, residing in high-altitude areas like the Andes Mountains makes them more susceptible to hypoxia, which can be further aggravated by the anemia


  1. Baker PT, Little MA. Man in the Andes: A Multidisciplinary Study of High-Altitude Quechua.Stroudsburg, PA: The Institute of Ecology; 1976. 10-36.
  2. Bartell EJ, O’Donnell A. The Child In Latin America.Notre Dame, IN. University of Notre Dame Press; 2001.5-36.
  3. Child Malnutrition in Latin America and the Caribbean. United Nations Publication. 
  4. Eversole R, McNeish JA, Cimadamore AD. Indigenous People and Poverty.New York, NY: Zed Books Ltd; 2005. 70-85.
  5. FactSheet. UNICEF.
  6. Khambalia AZ, Aimone AM, Zlotkin SH. Burden of anemia among indigenous populations. Nutr Rev. 2011 Dec; 69(12): 693-719. 693-716.
  7. Leite MS, Cardoso AM. Prevalence of anemia and associated factors among indigenous children in Brazil: results from the First National Survey of Indigenous People’s Health and Nutrition Nutrition Journal. 2013; 12(69): 1-11.
  8. Weinstein KJ. Body proportions in Ancient Andeans from High and Low Altitudes. American Journal of Physical Anthropology. 2006; 123:569-585.

Plans for Final Paper (Additional information)

  • Revisit studies pertaining to Quechua in the Andes and affects of chronic malnutrition – especially how their adaptation may put them at risk for anemia.
  • Address preventative measures that will reduce iron deficiency (diet, breast feeding, iron supplementation, food fortification)
  • Preventative measures for chronic malnutrition by resolving socio-economic problems caused by poverty – include discrimination and gender equality (women’s increasing influence on health policies?)
  • What rights do indigenous people have in Latin America?
  • Legal implications necessary to promote the rights of indigenous people in order to improve health service for their children suffering chronic malnutrition

2 thoughts on “Effects of Anemia on Malnourished Indigenous Children in Latin America

  1. sariegel says:

    Hannah, your draft does a great job of setting the stage for discussing the indigenous groups of Latin America by giving a lot of background information and well-developed definitions of medical conditions. Your introductory paragraph introduces and advances the “why it matters” of your topic, effectively hooking the reader. My only concern there is that I was unable to determine your thesis statement(s). It sounded like you were arguing that malnutrition and poverty are the greatest factors contributing to malnutrition; however, the title of your paper led me to think that your thesis should say something more about anemia specifically. I know that you talk about anemia, and bring up again the Quechua later in your paper, so perhaps I just misunderstood without the rest of your paper being present. I think the way in which you bring up anemia, i.e. after laying the foundation for its importance, was a logical progression that your audience will be able to follow.

    Thank you for including your plans for the rest of your final paper. I really like where you’re going with your discussion of iron deficiency caused by malnutrition in indigenous groups leading all the way through policies for the rights of these people to sufficient health care. That will definitely make your audience care more about your topic. My only other suggestions are that you go back through and proof-read your paper before turning in the final copy, and that you add in-text citations. You have a lot of solid sources, and this will make your audience know that the information your giving is credible.


  2. Michael Pedersen says:

    Very in-depth draft!

    I appreciated how laser focused your paper was on the topic. It adds a lot of value to the paper as a whole and helps others who might want to use your paper as a source a lot more to go off of.

    One aspect that I’d appreciate the addition of in your paper is, if you agree, is the addition of some type of social analysis in relation to the anemia and malnourished children of Latin America. As I read about how UNICEF attributes 50% of all child deaths to these conditions I wonder about the status of any relief efforts directed toward this group. I understand that it might be out of the scope you were aiming for, just a thought.

    The UNICEF quote talking about how children living in rural areas are more likely to be malnourished could be related to the “food deserts” mentioned in a previous class discussion – or more broadly the lack of adequate infrastructure needed to move the necessary goods to areas sufuring from more extreme poverty and food shortages.

    As an aside while discussing anemia and iron deficiency it might be interesting to note of common diets in Latin America. Due diets change based on rural vs urban environments as mentioned previously? Is the limiting factor stoping healthy diets an access problem or something else?

    Overall, I found your draft insightful into all the effects malnourishment can have on children. In addition, the amount of statistics presented in your paper would make it a wonderful candidate for a display at the undergraduate research conference. The plans you have laid out of the final paper also look very interesting. Good Work!


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