The dramatic increase in obesity in western societies has shifted the emphasis in nutrition research from the problems of undernutrition to the adverse consequences of being overweight. As with humans, Old World monkeys are at increased risk for type II diabetes and other chronic diseases when they gain excessive weight. To prevent overweight and obesity, promote animal health, and provide a more natural level of fiber in the diet, the standard commercial monkey chow diet at a vervet monkey breeding colony was changed to a higher fiber formulation in 2004. The new diet was also higher in protein and lower in carbohydrate and energy density than the standard diet. Because maternal behavior is known to be sensitive to differences in resource availability, data on weight and mother-infant interactions for 147 mothers with 279 infants born from 2000 through 2006 were assessed for effects of the diet change. The results showed that, even though food was provided ad libitum, the mean body weight of breeding females was 10% lower after the transition to the high-fiber diet. Behaviorally, mothers on the high-fiber diet were significantly more rejecting to their infants, and their infants had to play a greater role in maintaining ventral contact in the first few months of their lives. The effects of the diet change on maternal rejection were significantly related to the mother's body weight, with lower-weight mothers scoring higher in maternal rejection. These results demonstrate that maternal behavior is responsive to changes in maternal condition, and that beneficial changes in the diet may have unintended consequences on behavior.
2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.