Effects of food availability on serum insulin and lipid concentrations in free-ranging baboons

Joseph W. Kemnitz, Robert M. Sapolsky, Jeanne Altmann, Philip Muruthi, Glen E. Mott, Marcia L. Stefanick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


The relationship between food availability and metabolic physiology was studied in groups of free-ranging baboons (Papio spp.) living in the Amboseli National Park and the Masai Mara National Reserve of Kenya. Three groups subsisted entirely on natural forage, while two other groups lived near tourist facilities and often consumed food wastes from these lodges. The refuse provided a very accessible food source with relatively high caloric density. Consumption of the refuse was associated with reduced locomotion. Sexually mature individuals from all five groups were sedated surreptitiously in the early morning and blood samples were collected. Compared to animals foraging exclusively in the wild, animals that supplemented their diet with the refuse items had two- to threefold elevations in serum insulin concentrations, as well as increased total cholesterol (C), HDL-C, and VLDL+LDL-C levels. No sex differences in physiological measures were observed except in body mass. Elevated serum insulin, and cholesterol and lipoprotein concentrations influence the development of cardiovascular disease and have been shown to be subject to dietary manipulation and exercise under controlled conditions. The present results suggest potentially deleterious effects of a highly accessible, calorically dense food source, and associated reduction of physical activity for baboons living in an otherwise natural environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13-19
Number of pages7
JournalAmerican Journal of Primatology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes


  • Activity levels
  • Baboons
  • Cholesterol
  • Diet
  • Insulin
  • Lipoproteins

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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