Quantifying food intake in socially housed monkeys: Social status effects on caloric consumption

Mark E. Wilson, Jeff Fisher, Andrew Fischer, Vanessa Lee, Ruth B. Harris, Timothy J. Bartness

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

96 Scopus citations


Obesity results from a number of factors including socio-environmental influences and rodent models show that several different stressors increase the preference for calorically dense foods leading to an obese phenotype. We present here a non-human primate model using socially housed adult female macaques living in long-term stable groups given access to diets of different caloric density. Consumption of a low fat (LFD; 15% of calories from fat) and a high fat diet (HFD; 45% of calories from fat) was quantified by means of a custom-built, automated feeder that dispensed a pellet of food when activated by a radiofrequency chip implanted subcutaneously in the animal's wrist. Socially subordinate females showed indices of chronic psychological stress having reduced glucocorticoid negative feedback and higher frequencies of anxiety-like behavior. Twenty-four hour intakes of both the LFD and HFD were significantly greater in subordinates than dominates, an effect that persisted whether standard monkey chow (13% of calories from fat) was present or absent. Furthermore, although dominants restricted their food intake to daylight, subordinates continued to feed at night. Total caloric intake was significantly correlated with body weight change. Collectively, these results show that food intake can be reliably quantified in non-human primates living in complex social environments and suggest that socially subordinate females consume more calories, suggesting this ethologically relevant model may help understand how psychosocial stress changes food preferences and consumption leading to obesity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)586-594
Number of pages9
JournalPhysiology and Behavior
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 5 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Automated feeders
  • Food intake
  • Rhesus monkey
  • Social subordination

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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