An outdated appetite control system in a rapidly evolving world?

Imagine yourself for a moment waiting for a meal at your favourite restaurant, local takeaway store or at home counting down the time until the oven buzzer sounds. You know you’re hungry, but we seldom think or care about the complex series of processes that go on inside our bodies that drive that hunger.

And why should we care?

In the developed world, for the lucky majority at least, calorie-dense food has never been more accessible. Want a pizza? Just use an app from your smartphone to order one delivered any time, day or night. The one big problem with this–human appetite has evolved over tens of thousands of years when food was tough to come by, and we had to work physically hard for a meal, now we just go to the fridge. However the series of long developed processes that drive appetite have not caught up in this time of plenty thereby contributing to the modern day upsurge in obesity.

Obesity as a global problem

Obesity is a global disease on the increase, the World Health Organisation estimates that by 2015 there will be an astounding 700 million adults classified as obese. From a health viewpoint this is particularly worrying as obesity is a major risk factor for cardiovascular diseases, Type-2 diabetes and some cancers.

Also concerning, is the number of people in developing countries at risk, where the bane of obesity joins established under-nutrition. Dr Ranjan Yajnik, the director of the diabetes unit at King Edward Memorial Hospital in Pune, was recently reported by ABC News saying, “Populations which have faced under-nutrition for a long time are now exposed to the over-nutrition of the modern world through globalisation and westernisation”.

In short, it’s the modern world and how we live in it which is driving up rates of obesity.

An unbalanced system?

In broad terms, the body is wired to protect against starvation and low food availability, by increasing biological and sensory processes that promote the need to eat. This makes sense, after all starvation is an immediate threat to survival and was by far one of the greatest concerns of our ancient ancestors. As excessive food was less of a concern, the regulatory processes to protect against excess consumption and weight gain appear less effective, leading to the body favouring weight gain over weight loss.
Combine this with the increased availability of highly palatable foods, and the ability to stop eating when full is increasingly difficult. According to Dr. Joanne Harrold and colleagues, in a recent paper published in the journal Neoropharmacology, this may be especially true for many obese people, who may “possess an over-responsiveness to the reward effects of eating, which results in the appetite system of these people being effectively overwhelmed

2 thoughts on “An outdated appetite control system in a rapidly evolving world?

  1. Great article: definitely some ‘food for thought’! Maybe we need to invent some ‘smart-fridges’ that only let us open them when we have burnt enough kilojoules each day!

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