Johann-Friedrich-Blumenbach Institut für Zoologie und Anthropologie

Blumenbach Lecture Series

The mechanisms of weight regulation in humans and other animals: From insurance to obesity.

Daniel Nettle
Newcastle University, UK

Individuals must consume enough food to avoid starvation, but not so much as to cause them other problems. This is a difficult balancing act, since the food supply in most ecologies is somewhat unpredictable. As a result, animals have evolved ‘insurance’ strategies such as foraging for information, and storing fat. The activation of these strategies leads to some counterintuitive patterns. For example, in birds, it is the individuals with the least access to food who are the fattest. Interestingly, this is true in certain human societies too. I review our recent work on weight regulation in starlings, where we find that both the bird’s current environment and developmental experience modulate its food motivation and fat storage. I then examine what we know about human fatness from a similar perspective. Rather than seeing excess body weight as just ‘individuals making bad decisions’, there is some value in trying to understand it in terms of evolved strategies interacting with particular developmental and ecological circumstances.


Johann-Friedrich-Blumenbach Institut für Zoologie und Anthropologie
Dept. Behavioral Ecology
Dept. Cognitive Ethology


Poster download (PDF)