Is weight gain an advantage in the wild?

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Sam Wilson

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Is weight gain an advantage in the wild?
« on: 12/03/2010 00:30:02 »
Sam Wilson asked the Naked Scientists:
Generally these days, a person who is genetically predisposed to put on weight easily is thought of as unlucky; on the other hand, if someone can eat whatever they please and not gain a pound is considered lucky.

I've always wondered, in the wild, would their good fortunes be reversed?

If someone is predisposed to put on weight easier, generally, wouldn't they be able to survive food shortages and hardships easier than a skinny person who has difficulty maintaining a healthy weight?

So, historically, have the people who put on weight easily actually been healthier, where as it's seen as the opposite nowadays?

What do you think?
« Last Edit: 12/03/2010 00:30:02 by _system »


Offline chris

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Is weight gain an advantage in the wild?
« Reply #1 on: 12/03/2010 08:54:00 »
I would argue that the answer is "yes"; the genetic legacy that we have inherited from our forebears is one that confers a survival advantage in an environment where food supplies and quality are uncertain (like my hospital canteen, for instance). This is achieved by favouring efficient storage of excess energy as fat.

Consequently, we're now all victims of our genetic ancestry, because in many countries the very factor that this genetic combination was selected to combat - nutritional uncertainty and unreliability - has been replaced by food excess. As one obesity-researcher put it to me, "in this day and age it's a miracle that some people don't get fat!"

And, paradoxically, it's these people that scientists are focusing their attention on, rather than the average fat guy, because people who can remain svelte in the face of a prodigious eating habit clearly have some genetic advantage.

Identifying the biochemical basis of this anti-love handle effect may lead to novel therapies for the rest of the overweight population... (apart from joining weight watchers).

« Last Edit: 12/03/2010 17:39:29 by chris »
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Offline Mazurka

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Is weight gain an advantage in the wild?
« Reply #2 on: 16/03/2010 15:45:52 »
Size / weight issues, are to a certain extent the result of cultural conditioning - in some cultures excess weight is seen as a sign of success for example in China having a "scholars belly" is not sen as a bad thing.

There are also a lot of myths and bad science involved in the size weight issue.  Being fit and fat is probably physiologically better than being unfit and skinny - even if society thinks otherwise - just ask any top flight international rugby player! discusses the matter (ok it is a newspaper not a science journal but it raises an intriguing point)

This is also illustrated by examination of cancer survival rates - if you are overweight/ obese you have a higher change of surviving cancer than being normal/ underweight.  Of course statistically you have a greater chance of coronary heart disease...

In the "wild",I think you could assume to be physically fit (if not you would not survive!) so if you could retain the weight for lean times / endurance / insulation against the cold you would be better off.

However there have been a reasonable number of generations post hunter gatherer that genetic "flaws" (e.g. tendency to weight gain) could creep in that civilisation could compensate for.