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We Burn Energy Like Hunter-Gatherers … So Why Are We So Fat?

A slow metabolism may not be the cause of obesity in Western countries. In spite of sitting around more, Westerners have similar energy expenditure to traditional foragers.

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Stop blaming your slow metabolism for the extra pounds. Even if you sit at your desk all day, you still burn energy as fast as hunter-gatherers, according to a new study.

Researchers from Hunter College in New York found that even though Westerners are less physically active, their energy expenditure—calories burned—is similar to that of very active foragers in Africa.

The study, published in the journal PLoS ONE, examined a society of traditional hunter-gatherers in Tanzania known as the Hadza. Most of the food they eat is wild, and they gather it without the use of modern tools or equipment.

As expected, the Hadza were more physically active than typical Westerners. This was especially true for men. In spite of that, Westerners burn energy at the same rate as the hunter-gatherers, even after the researchers took into account body size. Similarly, energy expenditure among the Hadza didn’t depend upon how far they walked—as measured by GPS.

Researchers say that this challenges the idea that Westerners are getting fatter just because they burn energy more slowly. If large changes in physical activity don't affect total energy expenditure, then obesity is more likely related to people eating more food than they can burn off.

Physical activity, though, has many benefits other than weight loss, so it’s important to keep moving. If you are looking to lose weight, though, be careful not to eat more calories to match all that extra exercise.

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