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From undernutrition to overnutrition: the evolution of overweight and obesity among young men in Switzerland since the 19th century


Staub, Kaspar; Bender, Nicole; Floris, Joël; Pfister, Christian; Rühli, Frank J (2016). From undernutrition to overnutrition: the evolution of overweight and obesity among young men in Switzerland since the 19th century. Obesity Facts, 9(4):259-272.

Abstract

OBJECTIVE: The global obesity epidemic continues, new approaches are needed to understand the causes. We analyzed data from an evolutionary perspective, stressing developmental plasticity.
METHODS: We present diachronical height, weight, and BMI data for 702,902 Swiss male conscripts aged 18-20 years, a representative, standardized and unchanged data source.
RESULTS: From 1875 to 1879, the height distribution was slightly left-skewed; 12.1% of the conscripts were underweight, overweight and obesity were rare. The BMI-to-height relationship was positive but not linear, and very short conscripts were particularly slim. Since the 1870s, Swiss conscripts became taller, a trend that markedly slowed in the 1990s. In contrast, weight increased in two distinct steps at the end of the 1980s and again after 2002. Since 2010, BMI did not increase but stabilized at a high level.
CONCLUSIONS: The body of young men adapted differently to varying living conditions over time: First, less investment in height and weight under conditions of undernutrition and food uncertainty; second, more investment in height under more stable nutritional conditions; third, development of obesity during conditions of plateaued height growth, overnutrition, and decreasing physical activity. This example contributes to the evaluation of hypotheses on human developmental plasticity.

Abstract

OBJECTIVE: The global obesity epidemic continues, new approaches are needed to understand the causes. We analyzed data from an evolutionary perspective, stressing developmental plasticity.
METHODS: We present diachronical height, weight, and BMI data for 702,902 Swiss male conscripts aged 18-20 years, a representative, standardized and unchanged data source.
RESULTS: From 1875 to 1879, the height distribution was slightly left-skewed; 12.1% of the conscripts were underweight, overweight and obesity were rare. The BMI-to-height relationship was positive but not linear, and very short conscripts were particularly slim. Since the 1870s, Swiss conscripts became taller, a trend that markedly slowed in the 1990s. In contrast, weight increased in two distinct steps at the end of the 1980s and again after 2002. Since 2010, BMI did not increase but stabilized at a high level.
CONCLUSIONS: The body of young men adapted differently to varying living conditions over time: First, less investment in height and weight under conditions of undernutrition and food uncertainty; second, more investment in height under more stable nutritional conditions; third, development of obesity during conditions of plateaued height growth, overnutrition, and decreasing physical activity. This example contributes to the evaluation of hypotheses on human developmental plasticity.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:04 Faculty of Medicine > Institute of Evolutionary Medicine
Dewey Decimal Classification:Unspecified
Language:English
Date:2016
Deposited On:25 Aug 2016 12:59
Last Modified:08 Dec 2017 20:12
Publisher:Karger
ISSN:1662-4025
Additional Information:The final, published version of this article is available at http://www.karger.com/?doi=10.1159/000446966
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1159/000446966
PubMed ID:27544200

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