The Thrifty Gene Hypothesis And Its Offspring
The Food Guys discuss the "Thrifty Gene Hypothesis," proposed in 1962 by geneticist James V. Neel, which prompted investigation into a genetic and evolutionary basis for diabetes among some human populations who had only recently been introduced to the Western diet of the 1960s.
In his paper titled "Diabetes Mellitus: A 'Thrifty' Genotype Rendered Detrimental by 'Progress'?" Neel proposed that the feast-or-famine cycles encountered by hunter-gatherers favored an ability to rapidly store fat during times of plenty, in order to survive subsequent food scarcity. A change in conditions to reliable, year-round supplies of food, Neel argued, transformed the tendency to store fat from an advantage into a liability, and perhaps led to diabetes.
However, Neel's own studies cast doubt on the theory. Neel couldn't find evidence of a long history of diabetes among the communities in question, and young members of these groups didn't demonstrate glucose intolerance, a predisposing factor for the disease.
(Broadcast: "The Food Guys," 3/22/15. Listen weekly on the radio at 11:50 a.m. Sundays, or via podcast.)