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Barbara Piperata

Dr. Barbara Piperata received her PhD from the University of Colorado-Boulder in 2005 and is currently an Associate Professor of Anthropology at The Ohio State University. Her research applies life history theory and a biocultural approach to the study of human ecology, reproduction, nutritional ecology, and food security. She has studied these topics among horticultural populations in the Brazilian Amazon (Ribeirinhos), the Quilombolas living in the Mata Atlantica in southern Brazil, and most recently among the urban and rural poor in Nicaragua.



Dr. Piperata’s research on reproductive energetics takes place in the Amazon. By examining postpartum practices, Piperata has documented how women conserve energy after pregnancy and through the lactation period. Results of this work revealed a high degree of intra-population variation in women’s strategies for meeting the energy demands of lactation (AJHB 2007 19:5) and provide empirical support for the  role of social support in  offsetting the costs of milk production (AJHB 2009 21:6). It is also in the rural Amazon that Dr. Piperata documented the health and nutritional consequences of the early stages of the nutrition transition (AJPA 2007 133:2). This work has argued for a more nuanced view of the nutrition transition by demonstrating heterogeneity in its health effects. For example while increases in BMI among adults may be viewed as negative, increases in body fat and improvements in linear growth among children are a potential positive outcome of economic changes in the region.  This work has also revealed the relationship between changes of the nutrition transition by demonstrating heterogeneity in its health effects. For example while increases in BMI among adults may be viewed as negative, increases in body fat and improvements in linear growth among children are a potential positive outcome of economic changes in the region.  This work has also revealed the relationship between changes in subsistence strategies which are being driven in large part by the Bolsa Familia Program and food insecurity. Despite the program’s goal of breaking the cycle of poverty and hunger among Brazil’s poor,  Dr. Piperata and colleagues report high rates of food insecurity in receiving households and evidence for maternal nutritional “buffering” of children as a response to food scarcity in these Amazonian communities (Soc Sci Med 2013 96).



Dr. Piperata’s work among Quilombolas is conducted as part of a large international and interdisciplinary team (University de São Paulo,  Departments of Environmental Management and Genetics and Evolutionary Biology) and focuses on the effects of development and conservation policies on livelihood strategies. A recent article (Hum Ecol 2013 41:1) summarizes the impacts of these policies on landscape complexity, economic strategies and human health.



Finally, in conjunction with Dr. Kammi Schmeer, a sociologist at The Ohio State University, Dr. Piperata is the Co-PI of a multi-disciplinary project and international team (Centro de Investigación en Demografía y Salud, National Autonomous University of Nicaragua, León) of researchers studying the effects of food insecurity on maternal and child health in Nicaragua. The team also includes graduate and undergraduate students who are working with Dr. Piperata to analyze data from this project in the OSU Department of Anthropology Human Biology  Laboratory, which she co-directs with Dr. Doug Crews.

Dr. Piperata’s work has been critical in elucidating the impacts of economic changes on dietary choice and work patterns resulting from such economic transitions and the health impacts of these transitions.  Additionally, she has provided empirical support for a model suggesting that social support may play a critical role in lowering maternal energy costs during lactation enabling humans to reduce inter-birth intervals and thus give birth to more offspring than our closest living primate relatives.

Award: 
Little Award
Year: 
2 013