Do hunter-gatherers really burn more calories per day?

Daily activity of the Hadza. Image: Andreas LedererI often see persons in the office with neurological complaints such as headaches, dizziness, difficulty with memory and thinking, or alterations in mood that also have a BMI (Body Mass Index) in the obese category. A common reason offered for not being able loose weight is their inability to exercise.

Conventional wisdom holds that hunter-gathers maintain a normal weight through a combination of the Paleolithic diet and an active lifestyle that burns more calories. According to a new multi-institutional study, Hunter-Gatherer Energetics and Human Obesity published in the July 25 of Plos ONE, this conventional wisdom seems to be incorrect. As described by Science Codex:

The research team behind the study, led by Herman Pontzer of Hunter College in New York City, along with David Raichlen of the University of Arizona and Brian M. Wood of Stanford measured daily energy expenditure (calories per day) among the Hadza, a population of traditional hunter-gatherers living in the open savannah of northern Tanzania. Despite spending their days trekking long distances to forage for wild plants and game, the Hadza burned no more calories each day than adults in the U.S. and Europe. The team ran several analyses accounting for the effects of body weight, body fat percentage, age, and gender. In all analyses, daily energy expenditure among the Hadza hunter-gatherers was indistinguishable from that of Westerners. The study was the first to measure energy expenditure in hunter-gatherers directly; previous studies had relied entirely on estimates.

However, this does not mean you shouldn’t exercise:

The authors emphasize that physical exercise is nonetheless important for maintaining good health. In fact, the Hadza spend a greater percentage of their daily energy budget on physical activity than Westerners do, which may contribute to the health and vitality evident among older Hadza. Still, the similarity in daily energy expenditure between Hadza hunter-gatherers and Westerners suggests that we have more to learn about human physiology and health, particularly in non-Western settings.

Bottom line: The type of food consumed matters tremendously! The key factor in loosing weight is what you select at the grocery store or restaurant! Low-grade chronic inflammation resulting from the modern diet and the impact of modern foods on the brain's regulation of eating behavior are the prime suspects in the obesity epidemic. Returning to the ancestral human diet is the most powerful tool for reclaiming a normal weight.


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