Nutritional ecology and human health

Drawing on theory, methods and empirical findings in nutrition research
Understanding the complex interactions between biology and food environments and the application of the nutritional geometry framework to inform the study of human diet, nutrition and health.

Health and disease are determined principally by the ways that human biology interacts with our environment, a central component of which is diet and nutrition. To help understand and manage these interactions for good health, we draw on theory, methods and empirical findings from the field of nutritional ecology, which has developed to study the interface between non-human animals and their nutritional environments. There are several benefits to this. It enables us to view humans in the broader context of biological diversity, and to draw on the fundamental theoretical frameworks in biology, evolution and ecology, to inform the study of human diet, nutrition and health. Our research on humans also helps to develop and expand the foundations of non-human nutritional ecology.  

Our work is richly inter-disciplinary. We collaborate extensively with other Nodes in the Charles Perkins Centre, assembling the best combinations of expertise to identify and address the most important questions and challenges. It spans experimental and population studies of humans and laboratory and field studies of other species, ranging from domesticated species to insects and wild primates. Methods include systematic studies of human and non-human food environments, behaviour, physiology, and life history, as well as the molecular mechanisms that link these to diet. At the centre of our work is a modelling framework from nutritional ecology, the Nutritional Geometry Framework. Our node both applies this framework as a device for understanding the complex interactions between biology and food environments, and expands and adapts framework to meet new challenges. 

Our work has directly contributed fundamental new insights in human nutrition and several biological (e.g., ecology, life history theory, primatology) and applied fields (conservation, animal production, obesity management) fields. It has also influenced theory and methods in nutrition research, through the adoption by other research groups in these fields of the Nutritional Geometry Framework. We teach our research in undergraduate programs, train graduate student, and translate it for the general public via media and writing articles and books for the general public.  

  • ARC Discovery ($510,580 - 2018 to 2020). A life-course approach to the nutrition-lifespan-reproduction nexus.
  • NHMRC Program Grant ($12,981,420 - 2019 to 2023). Nutrition and Complexity.
  • ARC Discovery ($380,000 – 2020 to 2023). Sustainable Australian food production within secure global supply chains. 
  • Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CA$1,090,125 – 2017 to 2022). Diet, physiological dysregulation, and aging: understanding longitudinal links through trajectory analysis, with Drs A Cohen and H Payette (University of Sherbrooke).
  • Novo Nordisk Foundation Challenge Programme Grant (DKK60,000,000 – 2019 to 2024). Ancestral causes of obesity: understanding epigenetic transmission by spermatozoa.
  • ARC LASP ($118,098 – 2018). Nourishing Australia: A Decadal Plan for nutrition science.
Key publications
  • Raubenheimer D, Simpson SJ. (2020). Eat Like the Animals: What Nature teaches Us About the Science of Healthy Eating. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: New York. 
  • Raubenheimer D, Simpson SJ. 2020. Nutritional ecology and human health. In Integrative and Functional Medical Nutrition Therapy – Principles and Practice. (eds D Noland, J Drisko, L Wagner). Humana: Cham

Leading roles in Decadal Plan for Nutrition, Simpson and Raubenheimer

External collaborators
  • Dr Achyut Aryal (CC Group, New Zealand)
  • Dr Jessica Rothman (Hunter College, NY)
  • Dr Erin Vogel (Stanford University, CA)
  • A/Professor Maria Thaker (Indian Institute of Science)
  • Professor Dror Hawlena (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

Project node leader

Professor David Raubenheimer
Professor David Raubenheimer
Visit David Raubenheimer's profile