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close this bookResearch Methods in Nutritional Anthropology (UNU, 1989, 201 pages)
close this folder3. Methodological procedures for analysing energy expenditure
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentSurvey of habitual activities
View the documentDetermination of critical activities
View the documentDetermination of key participants
View the documentMeasuring energy expenditure rates
View the documentTime-motion analysis
View the documentEstimation of energy expenditure rates from time-allocation data
View the documentAssessment of endurance capacity
View the documentSummary
View the documentReferences

Survey of habitual activities

Before considering appropriate techniques of measurement, decisions must be made regarding choice of those specific activities for which relatively precise information is required. In addition, data are needed on population characteristics in order to assure representative sampling. Therefore, in selecting appropriate activities and segments of the population for examination, it is first necessary to obtain a general impression of local conditions that influence their working effectiveness and efficiency.

The primary objective of this initial stage of investigation is to describe daily, weekly, seasonal, and annual rounds of habitual behaviour and the key participants in these behaviours. To accomplish this objective, qualitative assessment is required of (a) regular daily activities performed by the entire population (e.g. eating, sleeping, resting, and leisure activities); (b) daily activities performed by particular segments of the population (e.g. herding, food preparation, child care, and office work); and (c) seasonal activities performed by diverse population segments, especially for agrarian and hunting populations. In the Andes these seasonal activities include planting, harvesting, wool-shearing, slaughtering, and gathering. Unlike later stages of research involving more intensive observation by the investigator or diary-keeping by subjects, this initial phase combines more casual observation, employing questionnaires and conversations with informants (consult Pelto and Pelto, 1978).

Observation of weekday and weekend activity patterns of different population segments can be supplemented by questionnaries designed to elicit detailed comparative information on resource utilization, production techniques, sources of income, and associated activities. Questionnaires are indispensable, especially for providing data on low visibility phenomena, or events that are temporally and spatially dispersed in a manner that makes observation difficult.

Table 2 summarizes a questionnaire administered to the Nuñoa population. Questions emphasize information on types of productive tasks performed, such as food production, spinning, and weaving, and who is engaged in these tasks. Following the administration of questionnaires, conversations with informants were conducted to clarify details of observation and questionnnaire data, and to raise new questions. From these techniques, one is able to establish modal habitual activity patterns and to determine associations among these patterns, as well as interpersonal or inter-household variation.

Table 2. Summary of production questionnaires administered to Nuñoa indigenous household heads

Category n Type of information obtained
Food production 65 Crops grown, land use, cycle of crops, and work patterns connected with these, time spent, quantity of seed used, production and uses of produce, causes, frequency, and effects of crop failures, evaluation of crop production in previous years. Herd size and composition, uses of animal products, birth seasons and rates, diseases' mortality estimates, and prices for meat, wool, and hides
Familial division of labour 44 Tasks performed by members of the family. Ages when children are considered economically productive, most useful, and when they leave home.
Ideal family size and sex-age composition
Extra-familial dependency 40 Economic dependency on relatives, "god kin," and friends. Attitudes towards such dependency
Spinning and weaving 25 Time investment in making items such as clothing and bedding.
Division of labour.
Seasons for the year when work is accomplished
Travel 29 Longest distance walked or ridden on horseback, purpose of trip, load carried, travelling companions, and number of rests per day.
Similar questions were asked about places outside Nuñoa visited in the previous year

Source: Thomas, 1973a, p. 60