Beyond Feast-Famine: Brain evolution, human life history, and the metabolic syndrome

Christopher W. Kuzawa*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

33 Scopus citations


Explaining The Modern Metabolic Disease Epidemic: The Thrifty Genotype Hypothesis And Its Limitations Today, more than 1 billion people are overweight or obese, and the related condition of cardiovascular disease (CVD) accounts for more deaths than any other cause (Mackay et al.,2004). Why this epidemic of metabolic disease has emerged so rapidly in recent history is a classic problem for anthropologists concerned with the role of culture change in disease transition (Ulijaszek and Lofink, 2006). In 1962, the geneticist James Neel proposed an explanation for this phenomenon that looked for clues in the “feast-famine” conditions that he believed our nomadic, foraging ancestors faced in the past. Given the unpredictability of food resources in natural ecologies, Neel suggested that a “thrifty” metabolism capable of efficiently storing excess dietary energy as body fat when food was abundant would have provided a survival advantage during later periods of shortage. In the wake of the rapid dietary and lifestyle change in recent generations, and the comparatively slow pace of genetic change, these foraging-adapted genes would now be “rendered detrimental by progress” (Neel, 1962), leading to obesity and diabetes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationHuman Evolutionary Biology
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages10
ISBN (Electronic)9780511781193
ISBN (Print)9780521879484
StatePublished - Jan 1 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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