Nutritional anthropology is the interplay between human biology, economic systems, nutritional status and food security, and how changes in the former affect the latter. If economic and environmental changes in a community affect access to food, food security, and dietary health, then this interplay between culture and biology is in turn connected to broader historical and economic trends associated with globalization. Nutritional status affects overall health status, work performance potential, and the overall potential for economic development (either in terms of human development or traditional western models) for any given group of people.
Many cultural anthropologists and sociologists who are interested in food and food systems examine the interrelationships of social, cultural, and economic factors as they relate to food use. In contrast, nutritional anthropology refers to a field of study at the interface of anthropology and nutritional sciences focused particularly on understanding how the interactions of social and biological factors affect the nutritional status of individuals and populations.
Nutritional anthropology is the study of food and nutrition from evolutionary, behavioural, social and cultural perspectives, and how these interact in the production of nutritional health at the individual, community and population levels.
The types of research undertaken by nutritional anthropologists can be classified into the following main categories: (1) sociocultural processes and nutrition; (2) social epidemiology of nutrition; (3) cultural and ideational systems and nutrition; (4) physiological adaptation, population genetics, and nutrition; and (5) applied research for nutrition programs.
Nutritional anthropological research that falls into the category of social epidemiology and nutrition includes a range of topics, for example, describing how particular social and cultural factors place people at risk for nutritional problems or identifying health problems related to nutrition. Among the topics that have attracted attention are the social and ecological determinants of vitamin A deficiency and other micronutrient deficiencies, interactions of socioeconomic and cultural factors that adversely affect growth in infants and young children, and the functional consequences of malnutrition in childhood and adulthood.