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Obes Rev. 2018 Dec;19 Suppl 1:24-35. doi: 10.1111/obr.12785.

Hunter-gatherers as models in public health.

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Department of Evolutionary Anthropology, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA.
Department of Anthropology, University of California, Los Angeles, CA, USA.
Department of Human Behavior, Ecology, and Culture, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany.
School of Anthropology, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA.


Hunter-gatherer populations are remarkable for their excellent metabolic and cardiovascular health and thus are often used as models in public health, in an effort to understand the root, evolutionary causes of non-communicable diseases. Here, we review recent work on health, activity, energetics and diet among hunter-gatherers and other small-scale societies (e.g. subsistence farmers, horticulturalists and pastoralists), as well as recent fossil and archaeological discoveries, to provide a more comprehensive perspective on lifestyle and health in these populations. We supplement these analyses with new data from the Hadza, a hunter-gatherer population in northern Tanzania. Longevity among small-scale populations approaches that of industrialized populations, and metabolic and cardiovascular disease are rare. Obesity prevalence is very low (<5%), and mean body fat percentage is modest (women: 24-28%, men: 9-18%). Activity levels are high, exceeding 100 min d-1 of moderate and vigorous physical activity, but daily energy expenditures are similar to industrialized populations. Diets in hunter-gatherer and other small-scale societies tend to be less energy dense and richer in fibre and micronutrients than modern diets but are not invariably low carbohydrate as sometimes argued. A more integrative understanding of hunter-gatherer health and lifestyle, including elements beyond diet and activity, will improve public health efforts in industrialized populations.


Diet; longevity; obesity; physical activity


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