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Lessons From The Rainforest
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Lessons From The Rainforest

A Tsimane elder. Is she more healthy than you are?

Topic

Health Effects of Industrialized Societies

Student Exploration

When is a risk factor not a risk?

The industrialization of societies created many benefits for many people. Indeed, if people didn't realize benefits, it is doubtful we would have industrialized to the extent we have. However, researchers are increasingly finding apparent costs to this industrialization which were never anticipated. For example, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that by 2015 30% of all deaths worldwide will be due to cardiovascular disease. Look left, look right, look in the mirror. Assuming there were people to your left and right, one of the people you looked at is likely to die of cardiovascular disease. So what does this have to do with industrial societies? Well, researchers studying people in non-industrial societies are finding incredibly low incidences of cardiovascular disease. This pattern holds even when the people show pronounced "risk factors" for cardiovascular disease. A risk factor is something Western medicine uses to predict someone's susceptibility for a disease. Think about this for a second. Not only do these people not develop cardiovascular disease, they go against the big predictors that "modern" societies use to determine the risk of the disease and justify prescribing drugs to prevent the disease. Seems like people like the Tsimane of Bolivia have a lot to teach us.

Extension Investigation

Use the resources below to answer the following questions:

  1. What sort of lifestyle do the Tsimane live? Why does this make them an interesting group to compare to industrial societies? Remember the principles of experimental design in answering this question.
  2. What risk factor of cardiovascular disease do the Tsimane display? How does this situation affect them? Do you think it is a good idea to treat people based on risk factors? Why or why not?
  3. What hypothesis have researchers formulated to explain the extremely low incidence of cardiovascular disease among the Tsimane?
  4. What sorts of maladies do the Tsimane suffer from? How does this affect their life expectancy? How does this compare to life expectancy in industrialized nations?

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