Hunter-gatherers as models in public health

H. Pontzer, B. M. Wood, D. A. Raichlen

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

20 Scopus citations

Abstract

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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)24-35
Number of pages12
JournalObesity Reviews
Volume19
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2018

Keywords

  • Diet
  • longevity
  • obesity
  • physical activity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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