[evol-psych] Baboon behavior offers clues in the all-too-human battle of the bulge (fwd)

Eugen Leitl eugen@leitl.org
Wed, 12 Mar 2003 12:02:53 +0100 (CET)

Date: Wed, 12 Mar 2003 09:24:40 -0000
From: Ian Pitchford <ian.pitchford@scientist.com>
To: evolutionary-psychology@yahoogroups.com
Subject: [evol-psych] Baboon behavior offers clues in the all-too-human
    battle of the bulge

Public release date: 11-Mar-2003
Contact: Nancy Solomon solomonn@slu.edu 314-977-8017
Saint Louis University

Baboon behavior offers clues in the all-too-human battle of the bulge

Don't be too quick to blame your diet, new research suggests

ST. LOUIS - Lack of exercise - and not diet - causes obesity and diabetes among
those who are predisposed to the conditions, suggests new research on wild
baboons by Saint Louis University geriatricians published this month in the
Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

In addition, researchers discovered that obese animals were NOT the ones with
the highest cholesterol levels, suggesting cholesterol problems and obesity are
triggered by different mechanisms.

"Figuratively speaking, if humans don't exercise, some are likely to become
obese and as fat as baboons. You're genetically predisposed or you're not,"
says William A. Banks, M.D., professor of geriatrics in the department of
internal medicine and professor of pharmacological and physiological science at
Saint Louis University School of Medicine. "Our research suggests some people
get obese by not spending all the calories they are taking in rather than
taking in a large number of calories."

Researchers studied the eating and exercise patterns of two groups of wild
baboons in East Africa. One group of baboons had to forage for their food. The
others found a stash of food that humans had discarded that was much closer to
where they lived, which meant they expended much less energy for their daily
food raids. The fat content and number of calories that both groups of baboons
ate was about the same, but the baboons that ate the leftovers didn't have to
work as hard to get their food.

"More than a third of the baboons that didn't have to exercise as much to get
their food had indications of obesity, evidence of early diabetes caused by
insulin resistance and elevated cholesterol levels," says Banks, who also is a
staff physician at Veterans Affairs Medical Center in St. Louis.

"The baboons' condition is similar to a condition in people called metabolic
Syndrome X. Everything breaks down at once as patients develop diabetes,
hyperlipedema, hypertension and obesity."

Most of the baboons that found the easy calories - seven out of 11 - did NOT
develop the condition, indicating that some primates are more sensitive than
others to becoming obese and diabetic. Their levels of leptin, the protein
produced by fat and an indicator of obesity, were similar to those that had to
forage in the wild for food.

"The implication for humans is some people can get away with indiscretions such
as not exercising and will gain a little weight without suffering these serious
health consequences. Other people are going to balloon out and get sick with
less provocation," Banks says.

Surprisingly, the baboons with the highest cholesterol levels were those that
ate the food discarded by people and had normal leptin levels, indicating that
high cholesterol and obesity might be controlled by different factors.

"They're probably two separate but inter-related aspects. This may be telling
us they segregate more than we thought," Banks says.

"This is a unique natural experiment with an uncanny replication of the human
condition in a non-human primate. It's pointing to a bigger importance to
exercise than we thought."

Saint Louis University division of geriatric medicine was ranked among the top
10 in the country in last year's U.S. News & World Report listing of America's
best hospitals and specialties. Its physicians staff Saint Louis University
Hospital, ranked by Modern Maturity as one of the 50 best hospitals.

Editor's note: To arrange an interview with Dr. Banks, please call Nancy
Solomon, Saint Louis University Health Sciences Center media relations, at


News in Brain and Behavioural Sciences - Issue 88 - 8th March, 2003 

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