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Research with the Samburu in Kenya

30 July 2014

Professors Jeff Brunstrom and Peter Rogers have recently returned from a successful trip to Kenya, where they explored the dietary behaviour of the Samburu.  

Professors Jeff Brunstrom and Peter Rogers have recently returned from a successful trip to Kenya, where they explored the dietary behaviour of the Samburu.  This indigenous population are semi-nomadic pastoralists who live in a remote arid area of North Central Kenya.

The Nutrition and Behaviour Unit try to unpick the mechanisms and principles that govern human dietary behaviour. However, there is a danger that by studying people who have been exposed only to a Western diet they might overlook important detail or, worse still, they might draw general conclusions that don’t translate to other cultures.

To address this concern NBU, alongside Professor Jon Holtzman, a cultural anthropologist, from Western Michigan University and Professor Kevin Myers, an expert in animal dietary behaviour, from Bucknell University took their research to Kenya to test some of these ideas. Their work represents a novel interdisciplinary collaboration that fuses the comparative perspective of cultural anthropological approaches with rigorous empirical methods.

In June 2014, Jeff Brunstrom and Peter Rogers spent three weeks conducting field research. The Samburu are interesting to NBU because they have been exposed to a very narrow range of foods.

This makes them an ideal population to study because they can help the team to understand the comparative effects of exposure to dietary variability and complexity in our own dietary environment (a central theme of an ongoing BBSRC-funded project). Through their research they have learned a lot about cultural differences in response to sugar and the role that sweetness and artificial sweeteners might play in the control of appetite.

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