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close this bookResearch Methods in Nutritional Anthropology (United Nations University, 1989, 201 p.)
close this folder6. Elementary mathematical models and statistical methods for nutritional anthropology
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentPrediction models
View the documentPreference relations
View the documentDecision-making models and optimization analysis
View the documentInput-output analysis
View the documentStochastic process models
View the documentConclusion
View the documentReferences


All the models we have mentioned could be more thoroughly explored, and many other branches of mathematics could be fruitfully investigated, e.g. set theory, graph theory, network analysis, and marginal analysis. Those interested are encouraged to read any of a number of first-rate texts in basic, applied mathematics for inspiration, such as Mizrahi and Sullivan, 1979; Kemeny, Snell, and Thompson, 1974; and Williams, 1975. Without wishing to end on a discordant note, we feel obliged to mention at least two major obstacles we have encountered that have hindered our own efforts develop mathematical models in nutritional anthropology. The first of these lies mainly on the anthropological side of the field. Frequently, socio-cultural variables, e.g. food preferences, customary behaviour, socio-economic status, or degree of acculturation or modernization, are not measured precisely enough to permit the construction of interval or ratio scales. This limitation is especially vexing when one observes that the field of nutrition is blessed with an abundance of finely measured quantities. Here, then, is an area where anthropology needs to catch up. The second, which at least holds the prospect of being overcome, is the dearth of longitudinal data collected from more than one time period. This is, in part, a logistical problem. Field-workers cannot be everywhere all the time. But we think that, with adequate sampling procedures, more effort should be expended in systematically researching smaller samples of representative cases, over time, in conjunction with the numerous surveys of large samples of cases at a single point in time.

For the model builder in nutritional anthropology, a direct consequence of both obstacles is that the full conceptual and analytic power of the calculus (and differential equations), so essential for constructing dynamic models, must remain largely dormant. We believe that if these two problems could be resolved a great leap forward would take place, which would serve to place nutritional anthropology on a more equal footing with her sister disciplines.