University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Biological Anthropology Seminar Series > Multiple burdens of malnutrition among Maya families in Yucatan and how language (Spanish vs Mayan) impact health outcomes

Multiple burdens of malnutrition among Maya families in Yucatan and how language (Spanish vs Mayan) impact health outcomes

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The Maya are the largest indigenous group in Yucatan (Mexico) lagging behind in many sociodemographic and health-related indicators. They suffer from dual burden of malnutrition, more specifically, undernutrition (stunting and anaemia) associated with overweight/obesity (OW/OB). This outcome has been reported at individual and family levels. The Maya life trajectories are different to non-indigenous groups due to systemic trauma, poverty and unequal access to healthcare and education. Over 20% of Yucatec children are stunted or with short-height-for-age, 20% have iron-deficiency anaemia, and 50% are OW/OB. Over 40% of adults are OW/OB. About 30% of the population speaks Yucatec-Mayan, and 62% self-identify as indigenous. Language, in the Maya case, is a synonym of ethnic identity but also a reliable proxy of negative health outcomes. Language is not routinely included in most Human Biology-based projects but, in this talk, we make a case for it. We have identified challenges and experiences in bilingual context, associated with health messages and outcomes. Members of the Maya communities see bilingualism as an important tool to navigate the health system, which is run by health carers who do not speak/understand Mayan. Health carers tend to misperceive teachers’ languages competences by assuming teachers in the schools speak/understand Mayan when in reality almost none of them do. Over 90% of parents wished that health carers and teachers understood Mayan because they realise several lines of health and educational communication are lost in the process. Including language as a predictor of health outcomes seems to be the next step in our research process, which takes a participatory-action research approach and relies on an interdisciplinary group to draw expertise from different areas of knowledge.

This talk is part of the Biological Anthropology Seminar Series series.

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