Evolutionary Aspects of Nutrition and Health: Diet, Exercise, Genetics and Chronic Disease

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Date: Apr. 2001
From: Human Biology(Vol. 73, Issue 2)
Publisher: Wayne State University Press
Document Type: Book review
Length: 1,079 words

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Evolutionary Aspects of Nutrition and Health: Diet, Exercise, Genetics and Chronic Disease, edited by A.P. Simopoulos. World Review of Nutrition and Dietetics, Vol. 84. Basel, Germany: Karger, 1999. 145 pp. $175.00 (hardcover).

This volume of five edited papers is slim but substantive. The main theme of the volume is that humans are currently nutritionally out of synch with their genetic make-up, which evolved over hundreds of thousands of years prior to the Neolithic and the advent of the Agricultural Revolution. This type of evolutionary explanation for the proliferation of chronic diseases in the modem age was first introduced by Neel (1962) with the "thrifty gene" hypothesis and was later elaborated on by Eaton and Konner (1988) with the "Paleolithic prescription."

In fact, the first paper in the volume is by J.V. Neel, who begins with a discussion of the legacy of our human genome, and, as he phrases it, how "old genes have gone astray." His main thesis, however, is that gene therapy and, in general, an emphasis on the genetic basis of so-called "diseases of civilization"--for example, diabetes, hypercholesterolemia, hypertension, and coronary heart disease--is not the best strategy for promoting population health. Rather, he advocates that nutritionists take a life-style approach--that is, behavioral modification of diet and exercise-- to these diseases, because it is more cost effective and ultimately has a larger public health impact. It is an interesting and refreshing perspective, expecially coming from a researcher who has spent most of his career studying the underlying genetic aspects of these diseases. Where this approach is weak, however, is in Neel's emphasis on life-style, as if we all...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A77197893