Jonathan CK Wells

Preventing chronic disease: an evolutionary perspective

In recent decades, chronic disease has become the leading cause
of global morbidity and mortality worldwide, and the global burden of disease is steadily increasing. An evolutionary perspective can help in several ways. First, understanding of the environments in which we evolved, and the way that hominins resolve ecological stresses through metabolic adaptations, clarifies our sensitivity to the changes in diet and lifestyle that accompany economic development. On its own, however, this knowledge is of little value in tackling the chronic disease epidemic. Second, therefore, we need to build evolutionary models of human behaviour, understanding how and why hierarchical societies have developed, and how they shape susceptibility to chronic disease. This broader approach identifies the organisation of human society as the fundamental factor in the chronic disease epidemic, helping identify novel targets for intervention.