What happens when native arctic populations substitute traditional high-protein/high-fat food (like venison and river fish) with “noodles, pasta, bread, pastry and sugar?”
Obesity. For the first time ever.
Researchers have never before recorded obesity in the Nenet or Khanty populations — groups that have been living hunter-gatherer existences for tens of thousands of years.
The Nenets and Khanty tribes traditionally eat a diet of venison and fresh fish, which provides them with nutrients to help them withstand the Arctic’s harsh climate. Venison helps stave off frostbite, fish fat can increase resistance to cold stress, and certain fish, like pike or burbot, a large freshwater fish, can help prevent respiratory disease and hypertension.
Alexey Titovsky, regional director for science and innovation, said:
It never happened before that the small local indigenous peoples of the north suffered from obesity. It is a nonsensical modern problem. Now even a predisposition to obesity is being noticed.
Over the past few years a Western diet full of nonperishable, sugary junk food has been creeping its way into the arctic. Their intake of venison and fish has fallen by half, and they’ve gotten hooked on eating “so-called chemically processed products,” particularly of the instant-noodle variety. As a result, these nomadic people are getting fat.
One researcher, Andrey Lobanov, explains:
It’s easy these days for herders to stock up on packaged foods while passing through villages, and these caloric products have led to “dramatic changes to the rations of the people living in the tundra.” They’ve added carb-heavy pastries, pastas, and breads to a diet previously built around lean fats and few grains, and Lobanov adds that’s also no good because carbs can’t really provide the nutrients Arctic survival requires (for example, venison is apparently useful for people wanting to minimize their risk of frostbite — which presumably these people are!). Worse, studies show this group can digest carbs “maybe even better than Europeans,” which means they really load up when eating them. The problem, according to scientists, is that the “more a person eats sugar, the more he or she needs to feel the taste. So the consumption of sugar grows exponentially.”