A nonadaptive scenario explaining the genetic predisposition to obesity: the "Predation release" hypothesis

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The "thrifty gene hypothesis" suggests we evolved genes for efficient food collection and fat deposition to survive periods of famine and that now that food is continuously available, these genes are disadvantageous because they make us obese in preparation for a famine that never comes. However, famines are relatively infrequent modern phenomena that involve insufficient mortality for thrifty genes to propagate. I suggest here that early hominids would have been subjected to stabilizing selection for body fatness, with obesity selected against by the risk of predation. Around two million years ago predation was removed as a significant factor by the development of social behavior, weapons, and fire. The absence of predation led to a change in the population distribution of body fatness due to random mutations and drift. Because this novel hypothesis involves random drift, rather than directed selection, it explains why, even in Western society, most people are not obese.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5-12
Number of pages8
JournalCell Metabolism
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 11 Jul 2007


  • high-fat diet
  • body-mass
  • microtus-agrestis
  • thrifty genotypes
  • energy-balance
  • field voles
  • risk
  • weight
  • photoperiod
  • restriction

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