Constraint and trade-offs regulate energy expenditure during childhood.


Children's metabolic energy expenditure is central to evolutionary and epidemiological frameworks for understanding variation in human phenotype and health. Nonetheless, the impact of a physically active lifestyle and heavy burden of infectious disease on child metabolism remains unclear. Using energetic, activity, and biomarker measures, we show that Shuar forager-horticulturalist children of Amazonian Ecuador are ~25% more physically active and, in association with immune activity, have ~20% greater resting energy expenditure than children from industrial populations. Despite these differences, Shuar children's total daily energy expenditure, measured using doubly labeled water, is indistinguishable from industrialized counterparts. Trade-offs in energy allocation between competing physiological tasks, within a constrained energy budget, appear to shape childhood phenotypic variation (e.g., patterns of growth). These trade-offs may contribute to the lifetime obesity and metabolic health disparities that emerge during rapid economic development.





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Publication Info

Urlacher, Samuel S, J Josh Snodgrass, Lara R Dugas, Lawrence S Sugiyama, Melissa A Liebert, Cara J Joyce and Herman Pontzer (2019). Constraint and trade-offs regulate energy expenditure during childhood. Science advances, 5(12). p. eaax1065. 10.1126/sciadv.aax1065 Retrieved from

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Herman Pontzer

Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology

How did the human body evolve, and how does our species' deep past shape our health and physiology today? Through lab and field research, I investigate the physiology of humans and apes to understand how ecology, lifestyle, diet, and evolutionary history affect metabolism and health. I'm also interested in how ecology and evolution influence musculoskeletal design and physical activity. Field projects focus on small-scale societies, including hunter-gatherers and subsistence farmers, in Africa and South America. Lab research focuses on energetics and metabolism, including respirometry and doubly labeled water methods.

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