Tubers as fallback foods and their impact on Hadza hunter-gatherers

Am J Phys Anthropol. 2009 Dec;140(4):751-8. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.21040.


The Hadza are hunter-gatherers in Tanzania. Their diet can be conveniently categorized into five main categories: tubers, berries, meat, baobab, and honey. We showed the Hadza photos of these foods and asked them to rank them in order of preference. Honey was ranked the highest. Tubers, as expected from their low caloric value, were ranked lowest. Given that tubers are least preferred, we used kilograms of tubers arriving in camp across the year as a minimum estimate of their availability. Tubers fit the definition of fallback foods because they are the most continuously available but least preferred foods. Tubers are more often taken when berries are least available. We examined the impact of all foods by assessing variation in adult body mass index (BMI) and percent body fat (%BF) in relation to amount of foods arriving in camp. We found, controlling for region and season, women of reproductive age had a higher %BF in camps where more meat was acquired and a lower %BF where more tubers were taken. We discuss the implications of these results for the Hadza. We also discuss the importance of tubers in human evolution.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Body Composition
  • Body Mass Index
  • Diet / ethnology*
  • Ethnicity*
  • Female
  • Food Preferences / ethnology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Plant Tubers*
  • Seasons
  • Sex Factors
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Tanzania