Hunter-Gatherer Diet our Problem?

Herman Pontzer says No:

DARWIN isn’t required reading for public health officials, but he should be. One reason that heart disease, diabetes and obesity have reached epidemic levels in the developed world is that our modern way of life is radically different from the hunter-gatherer environments in which our bodies evolved. But which modern changes are causing the most harm?

Many in public health believe that a major culprit is our sedentary lifestyle. Faced with relatively few physical demands today, our bodies burn fewer calories than they evolved to consume — and those unspent calories pile up over time as fat. The World Health Organization, in discussing the root causes of obesity, has cited a “decrease in physical activity due to the increasingly sedentary nature of many forms of work, changing modes of transportation and increasing urbanization.”…

Our findings add to a growing body of evidence suggesting that energy expenditure is consistent across a broad range of lifestyles and cultures. Of course, if we push our bodies hard enough, we can increase our energy expenditure, at least in the short term. But our bodies are complex, dynamic machines, shaped over millions of years of evolution in environments where resources were usually limited; our bodies adapt to our daily routines and find ways to keep overall energy expenditure in check.

All of this means that if we want to end obesity, we need to focus on our diet and reduce the number of calories we eat, particularly the sugars our primate brains have evolved to love. We’re getting fat because we eat too much, not because we’re sedentary. Physical activity is very important for maintaining physical and mental health, but we aren’t going to Jazzercise our way out of the obesity epidemic.

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  • mkmangold

    I work at a job where I sit 80% of the time due to the emphasis on charting vs. patient care in our medical system. The first 3 years in our new clinic I ballooned up to 215 lbs. The first week in March, 2012 I started the “Wheat Belly Diet” by William Davis, MD and lost 30 pounds in 6 weeks without changing activity levels. And I never counted calories or felt hungry.
    It really is what we eat. Corn is king in this country and high fructose corn syrup is in millions of food products. Starches are also the culprits including rice starch and corn starch which are abundantly found in so-called “gluten-free” foods, maltodextrin, and textured vegetable protein (TVP). Avoid all of these including wheat, eat low on the glycemic index, fill your plates with low glycemic index veggies and proteins that are highly bio-available, and live well and happy.

  • Bob

    I agree with mkmangold – we eat too much processed food instead of REAL food like our parents and grandparents ate prior to the space age technology that thought we’d have better living thru chemicals. Conglomerates grow the GMO crap, manufacturing facilities process the hell out of it, the government subsidizes it, then everyone gets sick and the pharmaceutical companies and medical professionals use their voodoo to mask symptoms. It’s crazy.

    How about a milk and steak from cows that ate actual grass in a pasture? Eggs from chickens that aren’t force-fed slop and crammed into untenable pens? And fruits and vegetables that aren’t chemically-enhanced, genetically-modified, and preserved beyond their useful life, grown in soil that isn’t filled with toxins from our weed killers and insecticides? REAL food. It takes effort, but it’s possible, worthwhile, and healthy… said he who is fat from years of eating all the other crap and was diagnosed diabetic and only 3 months later was no longer diabetic because of better food choices.

  • Phil Miller

    What was the average lifespan of a hunter-gatherer? Probably not much more than 30. I’m not saying that we don’t eat too much junk food, but I’m skeptical of simple solutions for complex problems.

  • mkmangold

    @3Phil: the average lifespan isn’t the question. Major causes of death were birthing problems, trauma, and infection. Even if their lifespans were shorter, it wasn’t because of obesity, heart disease, liver failure, coronary artery disease, diabetes, or any other pathology due to food consumption choices.

  • Diane S.

    While on vacation out West a week ago, I thumbed through a copy of the area’s history and early photographs of frontier life. I was surprised to see that a good majority of those photographed were overweight. These were in the days prior to processed foods, and pioneer life was anthing but a sedentary. According to this article and many others out there, this should not have been the case. I think obesity is much more of a complex issue that has no easy answers.

  • Diane S.

    Sorry about the typos!

  • Mike M

    Diane: that’s right. The pioneers were hardly hunter-gatherers like the Native Americans around them. The pioneer diet was mainly grain-based (wheat, rye, and corn}. Obesity amongst the natives was unknown until their rights to feed themselves were destroyed by the US government. In fact, diabetes and obesity are so prevalent in some tribes that they are used to study those diseases. And are big money-makers for pharma using tax payer monies.