Revisiting the evolutionary origins of obesity: lazy versus peppy-thrifty genotype hypothesis

Obes Rev. 2018 Nov;19(11):1525-1543. doi: 10.1111/obr.12742. Epub 2018 Sep 27.


The recent global obesity epidemic is attributed to major societal and environmental changes, such as excessive energy intake and sedentary lifestyle. However, exposure to 'obesogenic' environments does not necessarily result in obesity at the individual level, as 40-75% of body mass index variation in population is attributed to genetic differences. The thrifty genotype theory posits that genetic variants promoting efficient food sequestering and optimal deposition of fat during periods of food abundance were evolutionarily advantageous for the early hunter-gatherer and were positively selected. However, the thrifty genotype is likely too simplistic and fails to provide a justification for the complex distribution of obesity predisposing gene variants and for the broad range of body mass index observed in diverse ethnic groups. This review proposes that gene pleiotropy may better account for the variability in the distribution of obesity susceptibility alleles across modern populations. We outline the lazy-thrifty versus peppy-thrifty genotype hypothesis and detail the body of evidence in the literature in support of this novel concept. Future population genetics and mathematical modelling studies that account for pleiotropy may further improve our understanding of the evolutionary origins of the current obesity epidemic.

Keywords: Gene pleiotropy; lazy-thrifty genotype; obesity; peppy-thrifty genotype.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Biological Evolution*
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease*
  • Genotype*
  • Humans
  • Obesity / genetics*
  • Phenotype
  • Starvation / genetics*