How can an American couch potato burn as many calories as a hunter/gatherer in Africa?
Many people think that the reason we are so fat is because we don’t move like our ancestors did.
They were hunters and gatherers, always moving, and therefore they never had to worry about getting fat.
This was put to the test in December 2018 by Dr. H. Pontzer Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology at Duke University.
He tracked the energy expenditures of the native people of Tanzania, the Hadza. They hunt, and forage for food and seem to be in motion all the time.
Yet, they burn as many calories per day as the average American couch potato watching TV.
The Hadza are leaner, and in many ways healthier than their American counterparts, yet exercise alone doesn’t seem to keep them that way.
It points out again that the biggest factor in keeping our weight in check is what we eat.
Their reliance on natural, grass feed animals as well as non-processed foods is what keeps them from getting fat.
Now this research is hardly perfect, and small flaws can happen when you are trying to do complicated measurements of calorie expenditures in a primitive African area, but let’s face it, most of us try to keep track of our calories using a Fitbit or our watch.
Dr. Pontzer summarizes it like this:
“they don’t over eat, so they don’t get obese.”
What was amazing about Dr. Pontzer’s findings in his article in Obesity Review is that no one diet was responsible for the results.
Some of the hunter-gathering tribes he studied lived on fish, others plants and others hunted. The rates of obesity stayed the same.
The difference is that their food was natural, and the people quit eating when they were full.
In short, they were not snacking because they were bored, or they felt they had to eat because it was “lunch time.”
Are these hunter/gatherers genetically different than us?
No, according to other research, when you put a hunter/gatherer where they can get a western diet and you put them in the city, they soon have the same problems we do…high weight and high blood pressure.
When members of the Tsimane tribe left and moved to the city, they soon developed Type II diabetes and other western health problems.
Our western diet is not only “irresistible” to us, but it also is to nearly anyone introduced to it.
Dr. Pontzer believes that one reason why the hunter/gatherers are able to stop eating is the lack of novelty in their diet. They eat pretty much the same thing all the time, and as a result, they don’t overeat.
Yet, we often blame our lack of exercise as the main reason we are overweight in the west.
Not surprisingly, the money for the studies which show that a lack of exercise as the primary cause of obesity is the food companies themselves.
For instance, Michell Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign was created after heavy lobbying by the food industry.
The top sponsors of the Olympic games have been food giants such as Coke and McDonalds.
Coca-Cola has been associated with the Olympics since 1928 telling us that “The Coca-Cola company shares the Olympic ideals.”
Pepsi blamed lack of exercise as the primary cause of obesity in an article in Fortune Magazine in 2010.
Agriculture giant Cargill got to promote their products in 2006 when they formed a partnership with the Center for Disease Control. They blamed the problem with childhood obesity on lack of exercise and offered to help by giving away walking tracks and revamped physical education curriculum.
The food giant Mondelez which produces products like Chips Ahoy! also works hard to promote more activity:
Today, the Mondelēz International Foundation is ramping up our efforts to empower families and communities to lead healthier lives. In 2013, we announced a $50 million commitment to multi-year partnerships promoting active, healthy lifestyles.
All these efforts by big food is aimed at one thing, blame lack of activity for an obesity crisis and not their products.