Evolutionary fitness & nutrition

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Russ Roberts recently had a discussion on Econtalk with Arthur de Vany. A lot of it covered baseball and social science, but he also spent a lot of time on “evolutionary fitness” (see the website at the link). I agree with a lot of what he had to say, but felt that some of his assertions about past evolutionary history exhibited too much certitude in the consensus of the field. In particular, when it comes to nutrition I think that evolutionary informed diets may need to take into account individual differences more than they do. I think there’s an unfortunate tendency of many people who find a particular diet which works for them to strongly extrapolate the efficacy of that diet to everyone else to the same extent. Probably limiting strong advice to near relatives would get rid of most of my concerns since families would share many of the same predispositions.

11 Comments

  1. Ah, good — we’ve got you paying attention to De Vany. He’s a very interesting guy.

  2. I’ve become totally contrarian about this stuff. A lot of it is vanity, looking good in clothes and being noticed when you walk in the room. Some of it is obsession with food. Some of it might be boredom. People should have better things to do than just eat and diet.

    Even the health part bugs me, because a lot of it is just fine tuning. The substantial health risks are pretty well known, tobacco, alcohol, obesity, and a few more obscure one (methamphetamine, gang fighting, etc.) Once you’ve done the big ones you’re 90% there. getting reasonably close to the ideal weight shouldn’t be that hard if that’s what you’ve decided to do. (I’m not and it isn’t).

    And then, if you’re healthy you live to be 85 or 90, which people do in my family. But no one wants to be 85 or 90. A lot of people can’t stand the idea of being 40. I don’t get it.

  3. I lot of those older paleo gurus have always been in great shape. Arthur de Vany was a minor league baseball player who lifted weights in the 1950s. He is doing great now, but he would probably do pretty good on some other type of diet and/or exercise regime.

  4. Ah, so those pictures explain why De Vany put out that ridiculous paper claiming that performance-enhancing drugs didn’t have much effect on all the homers that suddenly got hit in big league baseball. He’s on the juice, too!

  5. I lot of those older paleo gurus have always been in great shape. Arthur de Vany was a minor league baseball player who lifted weights in the 1950s.

    i did get the impression that de vany didn’t account for self-selection bias in some of the observations he’s making (not necessarily just about himself). e.g., “people without cancer tend to be strong.” but perhaps oncogenes and the like have an overall physiological fitness drag….

  6. One of the points he made on Econtalk was that steroids don’t develop fast-twitch muscles, which are crucial for generating bat speed, and thus don’t help for hitting home runs. But bat speed is only one part of the equation. F=MA. Steroids do help put on bulk and muscle. So mass is increased. Even if fast-twitch muscles aren’t developed or decrease due to the steroid intake, as long as enough muscle mass is added to increase the force generated by the bat swing and override any potential loss of fast-twitch muscles, it should help to hit home runs, provided other variables like coordination remain constant.

  7. Emerson’s just tired of me posting on Facebook about all this evolutionary/Paleo/Primal fitness stuff…

  8. Is his paper about baseball not-great? That’s too bad. He’s really interesting on economics and fitness.

    A lot of people are having luck with varieties of Paleo eating and Paleo fitness, by the way. And whole scene constitutes a pretty interesting critique of standard American ways of thinking about health, food and exercise. De Vany’s book comes out soon-ish, and should be very interesting. At the moment, the best book is Mark Sisson’s “The Primal Blueprint.” His blog’s great too:

    http://www.marksdailyapple.com/

  9. I thought his ideas were very interesting speculation, but given he was asking for major lifestyle changes (giving up grains!) I was disappointed by how little published research his website linked to. As you point out, a few anecdotes about people ‘feeling good’ just aren’t persuasive in something like nutrition.

  10. Suddenly everyone I know is doing diet and health stuff. That’s what I hated about the 70s.

    I have never intentionally bought organic food either. If it’s on the shelves, I might buy it, but I don’t look for it.

    there’s really a diminishing marginal return on that kind of thing. And like I said, no one is really looking forward to the years between 80 and 90 anyway. They’re not bad, but not worth organizing your life around.

  11. “there’s really a diminishing marginal return on that kind of thing. And like I said, no one is really looking forward to the years between 80 and 90 anyway. They’re not bad, but not worth organizing your life around.”

    Yeah. I think some of them are really banking on this Singularity thing. They think that if they do all this diet and health stuff, they’ll live long enough so that by the time they’re 80 or 90 they won’t be miserable, dessicated husks but will have new bionic organs and limbs or be uploaded into computers or something.

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