Non-Genetic Evolution as Obesity Villain

Bob Wills Ranch House

Edward Archer, Ph.D, of the University of Alabama School of Public Health, has a major difference of opinion with most obesity researchers: he blames evolution for the obesity epidemic.

Published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, Archer’s paper is said to encompass anthropology, pediatrics, epidemiology, and evolutionary biology. Synthesizing a century of evidence, he has written what is called a meta-theoretic analysis: “The Childhood Obesity Epidemic As a Result of Non-Genetic Evolution: the Maternal Resources Hypothesis.”

Archer’s first idea is that when a person eats, fat cells compete with other kinds of body tissues for the energy in the food. His second idea is that a pregnant woman bears a huge responsibility to not only the currently developing fetus, but to future generations, and much depends on her “physical activity and body composition.”

His third point is that in many human population groups, mothers have evolved past what Archer calls a metabolic tipping point. Consequently, poor physical fitness and obesity are “almost inevitable.” Here is Archer’s capsule description of his theory, as quoted by

Beginning in the 1960s, mothers became increasingly physically inactive, sedentary and heavier. This altered their bodies’ metabolism during pregnancy. With less competition between fat and muscle cells due to inactivity, more energy was available to increase the number of fat cells in their unborn children. The result was a dramatic increase in the risk of obesity and disease in infants and children.

In other words, Archer presents the current obesity epidemic as an implacable force of nature, an outcome of evolution that should be accepted. But to assume that evolutionary obesity cannot be stopped would be a mistake, because it can be – by pregnant women. As Archer advises, “Only mothers have the power to change the evolution of obesity.”

From the “Everything You Know is Wrong” Department

Changing eating patterns of pregnant women, however, is an uphill battle in some quarters.

For contemporary Americans who are accustomed to hearing that the black and Hispanic demographics are more prone to childhood obesity, this is an interesting historical note.

Way back in 1946, Bob Wills introduced a song (written by Fred Rose), titled “Roly Poly,”  with the lyrics:

He can eat an apple pie and never even bat his eye

He likes ev’rything from soup to hay.

Roly Poly daddy’s little fatty,

Bet he’s gonna be a man some day.

In those days, even among the whitest Caucasians, having a fat baby meant that the father was a good provider and the mother was a good cook. A fat baby was a badge of honor and a guarantor of the community’s approval. Today in many minority communities, it still is. Most people find it very difficult to shed the cultural influences they grew up with. In Dr. Archer’s quest to convince prospective mothers in minority groups with heavily entrenched cultural mores to change their ways, this is where the difficulty lies.

Source: “ Novel Theory Connects Mothers to Childhood Obesity: Evolution Is the Cause, and Moms Are the Cure,”, 11/17/14
Source: “Bob Wills Roly Poly,
Image by Boston Public Library



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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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