The Fulani are seminomadic herders of the western Sahel whose culture and economy are centered on their cattle. Adult Fulani men have a highly active lifestyle because of their constant trekking to obtain pasture and water for their cattle. In a previous study of the cattle Fulani of the Jos plateau of central Nigeria, we found that active herdsmen in the age range of 16 to 40 years were characteristically very lean: their fat-free mass (FFM) averaged 87.3%, while their fat content was relatively low at 12.7%. In addition, the caloric intake of the Fulani men was surprisingly low (1,668 kCal), especially in light of the physically demanding nature of their work. With regard to diet, more than half of their caloric intake was derived from fat, of which more than half again was accounted for by saturated fatty acids.
In a recent study we performed of pulmonary function in Fulani children and adolescents from a Fulani community in northern Nigeria between June and August of 2002, we documented a significant reduction in their forced vital capacity (FVC), forced expiratory volume in one second (FEVi), FEVi/FVC, and peak expiratory flow (PEF) values as compared to better-nourished children in a near by village where the economy is based on agriculture. In light of the low caloric intake of Fulani herdsmen and the well-established relationship between nutrition and lean body mass with pulmonary function, we were interested in measuring pulmonary function in adult Fulani men in the same community. To accomplish this, we recruited and measured pulmonary function in the adult male relatives of the Fulani children we previously studied and in whom we had documented deficits in ventilatory function. We hypothesized that the pulmonary deficits of these children would persist into adulthood and that the Fulani herdsmen would exhibit decreased performance on pulmonary function tests relative to age- and height-matched non-Fulani males in the nearby urban center of Jos. In order to compare nutritional status between the two study populations, we determined body mass index (BMI), and measured mid-arm circumference and triceps skin-fold thickness. A portable, battery-operated spirometer was used to measure the following pulmonary function parameters: FVC, FEVi, forced expiratory flow during the middle 50% of the FVC (FEF), and PEF.
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