Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Lorena Madrigal, Ph.D.

Committee Member

David A. Himmelgreen, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Daniel H. Lende, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Lynn B. Martin, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Elizabeth M. Miller, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Silviene Fabiana de Oliveira, Ph.D.


Kalunga, Life History Theory, Health, Syndemics, NHANES


The purpose of this dissertation is to test how growth, reproduction, and immune functioning interact in two populations of adult women residing in vastly different socio-economic and ecological environments, the Kalunga quilombo in Brazil, and the United States of America. The presence of life history trade-offs was tested to determine how the different envirnonments, and socio-ecological contexts of the populations were creating differential risks for health and reproductive outcomes, and life history trade-offs.

I hypothesized that the Kalunga people, living in very difficult and harsh conditions, would experience greater amounts of, and more severe, life history trade-offs than the U.S. women. I also hypothesized that in both populations, syndemic interactions between health outcomes, and the larger macro-social conditions, would influence stature, immune functioning, and reproduction. Additionally, these syndemic interactions would perpetuate poor health and reproductive outcomes within the entire Kalunga population, and portions of the U.S. population.

I collaborated with the University of Brasilia to collect data adult women from in the Kalunga quilombo in Goiás State, Brazil (n=38) via semi-structured interviews in 2016. In addition, these data were compiled with reproductive, demographic, anthropometric, biological, and socio-economic data collected from adult Kalunga women in 2015 by the University of Brasilia’s Department of Genetics and Morphology. Demographic, anthropometric, biological, and socio-economic data recorded in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2005-2006 from adult U.S. women was also analyzed. Life history traits were measured through stature (cm), Immunoglobulin E (IgE; kU/l), and reproductive variables (fertility, and reproductive ages) for both populations.

My results demonstrated that life history trade-offs impact diverse populations. I found evidence to support life history trade-offs occurred between stature and fertility, and stature and reproductive ages, in both populations. However, my results also indicated that the socio-economic, and ecological, conditions of both populations heavily influenced stature and reproduction in the women. Life history trade-offs were not observable between immune functioning and fertility in the Kalunga population, and not readily evident in the U.S. sample. The positive associations between IgE and fertility in the U.S. women indicate that while life history trade-offs may be suggested, other biocultural variables including: low income, ethnicity, education, and body size, are stronger influences on immune functioning, and fertility, in the U.S. women.

Though the Kalunga women had a history of infectious and parasitic diseases, and lived in conditions of poor sanitation and poverty, they had multiple ways of mitigating the stresses of their everyday life. The shared socio-ecological conditions of their community decreased the deprivations they experienced, reduced the disabilities they felt from their health statuses, and was reflected in relative homogeneity of their lived experience. In contrast, the U.S. population was dictated by disparities. Poor health and reproductive outcomes were concentrated disproportionately in low-income, less educated, and/or minority ethnicity status, women.

The findings of this dissertation have important implications for applied anthropology and the study of life history theory. My results demonstrate that Western lifestyles must be considered as instigators of life history trade-offs, and life history scholarship in humans must also focus on populations living in these conditions. Additionally, the secular changes resulting in lowered ages of menarche in U.S. women could lead to future poor health outcomes. As the Kalunga transitions into a more Western lifestyle, they are at risk for disparities within their population. It is imperative for applied anthropologists to be engaged in addressing the immune, nutritional, and psychosocial stressors within populations that perpetuate disparities, and instigate and/or exacerbate life history trade-offs.