Researching health impacts of Western diet and lifestyle on the Amerindian population

When: 28th October – 29th November 2015

Where: Upper Essequibo region, Guyana, South America

What: To assess the physiological, psychological and social impact of Western diet and lifestyle on the indigenous Amerindian population.

Who: Students from the University of Aberdeen in collaboration with the University of Guyana.

Status: Completed Download Expedition Report


Our team investigated whether the Guyanese Amerindian people who have moved from the Interior (Guyana’s large jungle region) to the coastal cities were at greater health risk than Amerindians who still resided in the interior.

To do this we spent a month visiting a series of Amerindian villages looking at various risk factors including: blood pressure, BMI, hip-waist ratio, peak flow and using psychological screening and questionnaires, all designed to help us assess western diet and lifestyle impact.

A University of Guyana student led counterpart team visited suburban communities carrying out the same research allowing us to compare results.

Aberdeen Guyana Expedition 2015

The classroom at Rewa.


Multiple Indigenous populations such as American Indian, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders, have been shown to have a higher risk of developing Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD’s) after having been exposed to a westernised diet and lifestyle. These NCD’s include diabetes, metabolic syndrome, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and respiratory disorders. We decided to measure hypertension, peak flow, BMI and hip-waist ratio, which are all risk factors for many of the above diseases.

Relatively simple procedural techniques were used due to the difficulty posed by reproducibility in a jungle based setting, as well as being consciously aware that more invasive investigations could result in psychological and social damage in communities less familiar with more invasive research techniques. There is a large population of Amerindians in the cities and suburban communities that lie along the coast in Guyana, as well as increase in ‘eco-tourism’, logging and mining, with large numbers of non-Amerindian people travelling into the Interior, thus increasing the exposure of Amerindian people to Western diets and lifestyles. Assessing the population risk would allow policy makers to act in the best interest of the Amerindian community.

Aberdeen Guyana Expedition 2015

Descending sacred mountain.


  • Upper Essequibo region, Guyana, South America
  • Caiman house field station -3.660199, -59.353288.
  • Rewa village and eco lodge -3.883405, -58.805473
  • Kaieteur Falls -5.176384, -59.480776
  • St. Cuthberts mission -6°22′N 58°4′W


1) To determine if there is an increased health risk posed by western lifestyles to Amerindian Guyanese compared to non-Amerindian Guyanese. This will be assessed through risk factor comparison between those Amerindians with a traditional lifestyle and those Amerindians in urban areas. Research objectives for this aim:

  • Diet and Obesity – looking at the Body Mass Index (BMI) and hip to waist ratio of city based compared to Interior based Amerindian people.
  • Peak flow (a non-invasive assessment of lung function) in city vs interior based Amerindian people, as well as smoking prevalence.
  • Blood pressure (hypertension prevalence) in city vs interior based Amerindian people.
  • General health questionnaire – Assessing a variety of variables and conditions including : ethnicity, age, diet, exercise, smoking, diabetes prevalence and mental health status.

2) To compare understanding and attitudes of factors known to influence obesity in women between 18-50 years in three separate groups: Amerindian women and Guyanese women in and around Georgetown and Amerindian women residing in the interior of Guyana, as well as views of women of the same age in Great Britain. Research objectives for this aim where to obtain information of the following key areas:

  • Access the availability of food, content of diet and portion size
  • Perception of diet
  • Food and development
  • Emotional responses and eating
  • Perception of body image and beauty
Aberdeen Guyana Expedition 2015

The team take in the view.


Other indigenous communities have already been identified as being at risk, often when they have already been fully integrated into Western society. This has not only led to some people rejecting their culture, but also to people who are at an already increased risk of susceptibility but who are unaware and uneducated on the health risks, exposing themselves further to high fat and high sugar diets. This is a trend that has been seen multiple times around the world. Guyana is at an economic tipping point in that eco tourism is one of its most expanding sectors. This will inevitably lead to increased exposure to more Western lifestyle and diet. This is why we feel we need to take steps now to either assess the baseline, or to quantify the damage already done.

Aberdeen Guyana Expedition 2015

John’s failed canoe attempt to retrieve a lost drone.


John Mitchell – Team Leader

Genevieve Marsh-Feiley – Secretary and Expedition Medic

William Paine – Media Coordinator

Bryan Dunsmore – Treasurer

Elizabeth Sangster – Team Leader of Guyanese Team

Aberdeen Guyana Expedition 2015

A sweaty team at the top of the mountain.


University of Aberdeen Wilderness Medicine Society
University of Guyana
Ashley Holland of Caiman House Research Station
Debra Sutherland – in country fixer
Dr Emmanuel Cummings (Dean of University of Guyana Medical School) – in country fixer
Rewa Eco-Lodge

Aberdeen Guyana Expedition 2015

The team in front of a beautiful jungle backdrop.


Principles Excellence Fund £500
Lord Mayors of London Award £200
SES Rivers Foundation Award £5,000
Nomad Expedition Medical Kit Competition £300
Maynards Trust £400
AUSA £800
Fundraising via CrowdFunder £1,255
Personal Contributions £4,400

Total £12,855

Aberdeen Guyana Expedition 2015

John and Will on the river near Rewa at sunset.


Scientific Exploration Society Rivers Foundation Award
Nomad Expedition Medical Kit Competition
Maynards Trust
Lord Mayors of London Award

Aberdeen Guyana Expedition 2015

An amazing sunset at Rewa.


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