Monday, February 22, 2010

Lindeberg on Obesity

I'm currently reading Dr. Staffan Lindeberg's magnum opus Food and Western Disease, recently published in English for the first time. Dr. Lindeberg is one of the world's leading experts on the health and diet of non-industrial cultures, particularly in Papua New Guinea. The book contains 2,034 references. It's also full of quotable statements. Here's what he has to say about obesity:
Middle-age spread is a normal phenomenon - assuming you live in the West. Few people are able to maintain their [youthful] waistline after age 50. The usual explanation - too little exercise and too much food - does not fully take into account the situation among traditional populations. Such people are usually not as physically active as you may think, and they usually eat large quantities of food.

Overweight has been extremely rare among hunter-gatherers and other traditional cultures [18 references]. This simple fact has been quickly apparent to all foreign visitors...

The Kitava study measured height, weight, waist circumference, subcutaneous fat thickness at the back of the upper arm (triceps skinfold) and upper arm circumference on 272 persons ages 4-86 years. Overweight and obesity were absent and average [body mass index] was low across all age groups. ...no one was larger around their waist than around their hips.

...The circumference of the upper arm [mostly indicating muscle mass] was only negligibly smaller on Kitava [compared with Sweden], which indicates that there was no malnutrition. It is obvious from our investigations that lack of food is an unknown concept, and that the surplus of fruits and vegetables regularly rots or is eaten by dogs.

The Population of Kitava occupies a unique position in the world in terms of the negligible effect that the Western lifestyle has had on the island.
The only obese Kitavans Dr. Lindeberg observed were two people who had spent several years off the island living a modern, urban lifestyle, and were back on Kitava for a visit.

I'd recommend this book to anyone who has a scholarly interest in health and nutrition, and somewhat of a background in science and medicine. It's extremely well referenced, which makes it much more valuable.

10 comments:

google2009 said...

Glad to hear that you recommend the book. I was thinking about getting it, but wasn't sure because of the price.

Dan Patrick said...

Really interesting. I, for one have no intent of becoming obese as I grow gray. Knowledge is power. Amazon wishlisted here. :) Thanks, Stephan.

J said...

Hi Stephan -

Just wondered if you consume eggs and chicken on a regular basis given that the majority of the feed here in the USA is either corn or soy (whether organic or not). Wouldn't this type of feed boost inflammation in the body given its high omega-6 content? Can I assume that flax seed would be the ideal feed given its higher omega-3 content? Thanks.

Jeff

Jake said...

I just received a copy of Food and Western Disease. It is priced like a textbook so it is very expensive. And it would make great textbook for a paleo nutrition class if some professor had the guts to teach it.

Todd Hargrove said...

I went on a tour in the Everglades this weekend and saw tons of alligators. They are great examples of lean creatures in an environment of incredible food abundance. They just sit around all day long sunbathing within a few feet of a total smorgasbord of birds, fish and other critters. Once they catch a fish, which probably takes about two minutes of work, they don't need to eat again for another week! I guess either they don't have a "thrifty gene", or they are very good at counting calories...

Jeffrey of Troy said...

The "middle-age spread" comment made me wonder about testosterone, and the effect of consciousness on it (for men at least).

E.g.: If your team wins - and you care - your testosterone goes up; if your team wins - and you don't care - T doesn't go up; if you team loses - and you care - T goes down; if your team loses - and you don't care - T doesn't go down; etc.

In modern Western "civilization", with our cult of youth, people over 50 may feel like "losers" to some degree; perhaps in a traditional culture, as people age they still feel valued, with a buoy-ing effect on T (and/or other hormones). (Psychoneuroendocrinology - yay!)

Have the Kitavans T levels been measured?

Taylor said...

So what's the answer? Why aren't they fat?

Jen said...

A copy of this book can be read, in part, at Google Books.
http://tinyurl.com/yde97s5
JenE

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Olga said...

Could iodine be part of the reason these societies tolerated carbohydrates so well? All the societies that you mention who eat primarily carbohydrats successfully are all coastal. The Kitavan's, the Tokelauan's, the Okinawa. Perhpas they can eat carbohydrates, because they are healthy to begin with, and remain that way.