Study of Tribe Suggests Overeating, Not Underexercising, is Making Us Fat

Hadza hunters

Too many calories, not too few laps around the track, are what’s really making us fat, a new study suggests.

When researchers led by Herman Pontzer, Ph.D., of Hunter College in New York City examined members of in the world’s last hunter-gatherer tribe — the Hadzas of Tanzania — they found that the tribesmen had the same average energy expenditure as vastly more sedentary Westerners. However, while these hunter-gatherers were obviously much more active, their basal metabolic rate was lower, perhaps to compensate, TIME reported July 26.

Total energy expenditure “may be a relatively stable, constrained physiological trait for the human species, more a product of our common genetic inheritance than our diverse lifestyles,” the study authors write. The reason for our high obesity rate has more to do with consuming excess calories, not exercise or metabolism rates, they suggest.

That doesn’t let you off the hook for exercising, however. Physical activity confers many health benefits, including better brain health, lower chance of chronic illness, and lower risk of premature death, among many other perks.

The study appears online in the journal PLoS ONE.

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