Do humans still forage in an obesogenic environment? Mechanisms and implications for weight maintenance

Jeffrey M. Brunstrom*, Bobby K. Cheon

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)
325 Downloads (Pure)


Many people struggle to control their food intake and bodyweight. This is often interpreted as evidence that humans are generally predisposed to consume food when it is available, because adiposity offered insurance against the threat of starvation in our ancestral environment. In this paper we suggest that modern humans have actually inherited a far broader range of foraging skills that continue to influence our dietary behaviour. To evaluate this idea, we identify three challenges that would need to be addressed to achieve efficient foraging; (1) monitoring the ‘procurement cost’ of foods, (2) determining the energy content of foods, and (3) proactively adapting to perceived food insecurity. In each case, we review evidence drawn from controlled and observational studies of contemporary humans and conclude that psychological mechanisms that address these challenges are conserved. For contemporary humans who live in fast-paced obesogenic environments, this foraging ‘toolkit’ no longer serves the same function to which it was adapted, and in many cases, this leads to an increase in food intake. Understanding these forms of ‘evolutionary mismatch’ is important because it can provide a stronger theoretical basis for informed dietary interventions that leverage fundamental foraging goals rather than work against them.

Original languageEnglish
Article number
Pages (from-to)261-267
Number of pages7
JournalPhysiology and Behavior
Early online date19 Feb 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2018

Structured keywords

  • Brain and Behaviour
  • Nutrition and Behaviour
  • Physical and Mental Health


  • Food insecurity
  • Hunter-gatherer
  • Evolutionary mismatch
  • Dietary restraint
  • Energy balance
  • Socioeconomic status

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