Size counts: Evolutionary perspectives on physical activity and body size from early hominids to modern humans

William R. Leonard*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations

Abstract

This paper examines the evolutionary origins of human dietary and activity patterns, and their implications for understanding modern health problems. Humans have evolved distinctive nutritional characteristics associated the high metabolic costs of our large brains. The evolution of larger hominid brain size necessitated the adoption of foraging strategies that both provided high quality foods, and required larger ranges and activity budgets. Over time, human subsistence strategies have become ever more efficient in obtaining energy with minimal time and effort. Today, populations of the industrialized world live in environments characterized by low levels of energy expenditure and abundant food supplies contributing to growing rates of obesity. Analyses of trends in dietary intake and body weight in the US over the last 50 years indicate that the dramatic rise in obesity cannot be explained solely by increased energy consumption. Rather, declines in activity are also important. Further, we find that recent recommendations on physical activity have the potential to bring daily energy expenditure levels of industrialized societies surprisingly close to those observed among subsistencelevel populations. These findings highlight the importance of physical activity in promoting nutritional health and show the utility of evolutionary approaches for developing public health recommendations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S284-S298
JournalJournal of Physical Activity and Health
Volume7
Issue numberSUPPL.3
DOIs
StatePublished - 2010

Keywords

  • Diet quality
  • Energy expenditure
  • Human evolution
  • NHANES
  • Obesity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine

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