We’re Still Hunter-Gatherers

A recent study compared our energy expenditure to that of a Tanzanian population of traditional hunter-gatherers. What can we learn from its results?

Ben Greenfield
2-minute read

We’re Still Hunter-Gatherers

A recent study reported that there is no difference between the energy expenditure of our hunter-gatherer ancestors and the average modern day office worker.

The study results challenge the idea that our obesity epidemic is a result of us being far less active than our ancestors. To get their findings, researchers measured daily energy expenditure (calories per day) of the Hadza, a Tanzanian population of traditional hunter-gatherers. It turns out that even though the Hadza spend their days foraging plants and hunting wild game, they burned no more calories each day than the average adult in modernized societies of the U.S. and Europe.

While at first glance, it could be argued that the Hadza may simply have a genetic propensity for “thriftiness,” which causes their bodies to maintain a low metabolism to conserve energy. But the research team certainly did account for the effects of body weight, body fat percentage, age, and gender on energy expenditure.

So what can you learn from this study?

It is highly likely that obesity is caused by free and unrestrained access to dense, high-calorie foods, which unlike us Westerners, the Hadza do not have.

This means that no matter how much you exercise, you may also want to think about your food more like a hunter-gatherer. This means you should:

  • eat foods whose ingredients you can immediately recognize and identify (for example, choosing crunchy carrot sticks over “Fiery Ranch Doritos”)

  • shop around the perimeter of the grocery store (where more of the unpackaged food can be found)

  • eat slowly and thoughtfully, chewing every bite thoroughly in appreciation of that meal you just hunted or gathered

If you have questions about hunter-gatherers and calorie burning, then ask away at the Get-Fit Guy Facebook page.

Luisa Puccini / Shutterstock.com


About the Author

Ben Greenfield

Ben Greenfield received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Idaho in sports science and exercise physiology; personal training and strength and conditioning certifications from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA); a sports nutrition certification from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), an advanced bicycle fitting certification from Serotta. He has over 11 years’ experience in coaching professional, collegiate, and recreational athletes from all sports, and as helped hundreds of clients achieve weight loss and fitness success.