24 Feb 2013

Fast Food as Maladaptation

Posted by jofr

Maladaptation is a trait or property required by adaptation that is (or has become) more harmful than helpful. Fast food and addictive junk food can be considered as a consequence of maladaptation. It is not suprising that we crave for sugar and fat. DNA and RNA are made of sugar (they both have a sugar phosphate backbone), and cell membranes are made of fat (i.e. lipids), and both sugar and fat are basic energy sources for the metabolism of the cell. The brain would not work without sugar at all. As carbon based life-forms we need to take in our basic building blocks – carbohydrates and hydrocarbon chain compounds – to maintain our physical integrity. The problem is that the drive to consume sugar and fat was the best genes could construct when food was sparse and hard to obtain. In modern times where food is pervasive and plenty, it is no longer a good adaptation. One could speak of a maladaptation. Genes selected and adapted to survive undernutrition in ancient environments produce overnutrition in modern environments [1]. This maladaptation to the modern world leads to obesity, diabetes and metabolic diseases. And fast food makes money of it. We all know that too much of a good thing makes you sick. Companies naturally produce what sells and tastes well, and not what is good for us. A recent NYTimes article says “As a culture, we’ve become upset by the tobacco companies advertising to children, but we sit idly by while the food companies do the very same thing. And we could make a claim that the toll taken on the public health by a poor diet rivals that taken by tobacco.” [2]


[1] Metabolic syndrome: maladaptation to a modern world, Terence J Wilkin and Linda D Voss, J R Soc Med. 2004 November; 97(11) 511–520

[2] The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food, NYTimes.com article from Michael Moss

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