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Content created: 2009-10-09
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Food and Nutrition
(Cross-Cultural Data From an Unknown Source)

The following table from an unknown source was passed on to me by an academic colleague who thought it interesting. Not knowing the source weakens one's faith in the data. However, since the colleague seemed well-meaning, I am inclined to believe that the general picture is accurate. I have highlighted the highest number in each column.


Population Energy Intake* Energy From
Animal Foods (%)
Energy From
Plant Foods (%)
Male Blood Cholesterol** Male Body Mass
Desert Foragers: !Kung (Botswana) 2,100336712119
Arctic Foragers: Inuit
(Alaska, N. Canada)
Pastoralists: Turkana (Kenya)1,411802018618
Pastoralists: Evenki (Russia)2,820415914222
Agriculturalists: Quechua
(Mountain Peru)
Industrial Societies: (USA) 2,250237720426

* Energy intake figures reflect the adult average (males and females) measured in kilocalories per day. In some groups there are significant male-female differences, so this may distort the chart.

** Blood cholesterol is given for milligrams per deciliter for males only.

*** Body Mass Index (BMI) data are given for males only. BMI is the square of the quotient of weight (kg) divided by height (meters). Modern male BMI standards are: healthy = 18.5-24.9; overweight = 25.0-29.5; obese = 30+.


Some points that stood out to me as I looked over the data in this table are the following:

  1. Both foragers and pastoralists in this table make a considerably greater use of animal foods than do agriculturalists or Americans.
  2. The foraging !Kung and the pastoralist Turkana have low BMI —which means they are linear rather than stocky— but there is a huge difference in the ratio of animal to plant food in the two groups, so low BMI is not correlated with food type.
  3. The foraging Inuit (Eskimo) and pastoralist Evenki both have high BMI scores —they are stocky rather than linear— and they too have a huge difference in the ratio of animal to plant food, so high BMI is not correlated with food type any more than low BMI is.
  4. Total blood cholesterol is not simply correlated with either an animal or a plant diet.
  5. American men have a higher BMI than other groups in the table, but their total blood cholesterol is even more extreme. This has been attributed to various causes, but sometimes to excessive consumption of meat. These data suggest that something else must be involved.
  6. Conclusion: Humans are adapted to a remarkable range of dietary intake, a feature which facilitates their living in a wider range of environments than is possible for most other animals, and makes them less susceptible to climatic change.
  7. Observation: These data are unbelievably cool and can be used to win bets with roommates or over the family dinner table. Unfortunately because the source is unidentified the data CANNOT be used for much of anything else.
  8. Plea: If you know the source of this table, please let me know so that I can cite it and/or remove the page.

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