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Diabetes and Obesity—An Evolutionary Perspective

Department of Anthropology, University of Vienna, Austria

Obesity and type II diabetes belong to the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century. Initially both diseases were typical of affluent societies. Currently both conditions however are increasingly found in low and middle income countries. In future obesity and diabetes are expected to reach epidemic proportions and affect developing countries to a greater extent than developed ones. A globalization of obesity and diabetes is observable. Recently prevalence rates increased, especially in Asia, the Near and Middle East, the Western Pacific region and even in
Sub-Saharan Africa. Evolutionary Anthropology tries to understand the evolutionary mechanisms promoting rising obesity and diabetes type II rates. Homo sapiens evolved in an environment quite different from our recent one. Profound changes in physical activity patterns and nutritional habits during the last 10,000 years and increasingly during the last 200 years increased the risk of obesity and diabetes type II. Consequently our recent environment is called “obesogenic”. This mismatch has been recently observable among societies experiencing rapid cultural changes characterized by Westernization and modernization. This review focuses on obesity and type II diabetes from the viewpoint of evolutionary anthropology.
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