Thursday, 24 February 2011

Fat Apes

We all know that there are scientists have identified myriad reasons for our obesity.  There are several ideas from rogue proteins, and psychological disorders to toxic environments.  I prefer the simple explanation - you're eating shit food.

Few of these 'rogue proteins' seemed to be expressed in abundance during the lean teams of the early part of the 20th Century.  I can think of few things more stressful than the uncertainty that two world wars brought.  I dunno, it just doesn't stack up.  Added to that we see fat people with fat pets. Are these animals suffering some kind of mental anxiety?  Dudo (I doubt it).

The notion of a 'toxic food environment' seems to be closer to the mark but I don't like the connotations of that kind of language.  Simply put, if you eat crap food, you'll look like crap.

An intriguing example of this can be found in zoos - and here is a good story by way of example.  The only species of gorilla kept in North American zoos is the Western Lowland Gorilla.  The single biggest killer of them is heart disease.  Their diet?
  • For decades, zoos have fed gorillas bucket loads of high vitamin, high sugar, and high starch foods to make sure their got all their nutrients.
So what to do?  At Cleveland Metroparks Zoo they tried an experiment:
  • ...they have started feeding food such as romaine lettuce, dandelion greens, endives, alfalfa, green beans, flax seeds, and even tree branches which they strip of bark and leaves. To top it off, they give the gorillas three Centrum Silver multivitamins inside half a banana.
Now you'll be wondering what the impact of this was (my emphasis):
  • Going back to this natural diet has changed gorilla behavior. Before, gorillas only ate during a quarter of their day because the food was so packed with nutrients. Now at Cleveland, they spend 50-60 percent of their day eating which is the same amount as in the wild. With all this extra eating, the gorillas have doubled their caloric intake, yet at the same time have dropped 65 pounds each. This brings their weight more in line with their wild relatives.
That is right!  Since going back to their indigenous diet, these gorillas have learned to break the laws of thermodynamics! (Joke).

It is interesting that this experiment has changed gorilla behaviour.  I guess with low energy food this is necessary, but the wider implications are quite startling.  In the modern age, exercise has become a discreet activity.  We fail to see activity in context.  We forget how much time our early ancestors spent seeking food.  As ADV says, "[we]only move when we are hungry, except the hunger must be acute, not chronic. This has always been the way the brain protects its energy".
The next step for the gorillas:
  •  "...is to exercise gorillas at the zoo to get their muscles to a similar level as their wild relatives.
We can only hope that the theme of this experiment is continued through to the choice of exercise - so no spinning nor bicep curls.

We humans are specialised for quite a wide ecological niche.  We'd perhaps all be better off reaching out and grasping some of those early drivers of our evolution than relying on modern abstractions to manage our phenotypic expression.

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