Evolutionary psychologists suggest that obesity is the maladaptive product of changes that took place in the Environment of Evolutionary Adaptation thousands of years ago. They say that food preferences and eating habits developed to promote survival such as when people “binge” eat, consuming excess amounts of food, it’s because we are in effect wired to consume as much as possible after years of living in scarcity. Basically the creature we know to be the standard human have been around for at least one hundred and fifty thousand years. For the vast majority of this time, we have lived in a way in which eating as much as you could where possible could mean the difference between life and death. Today however, this means we consume excess fats and sugars because we are subconsciously driven to do so, when in actuality many of us could do with cutting down on sugars and fats, as seen with rocketing obesity levels. Perhaps in a million years people will have problems with eating too much fruit and vegetables, if this theory is correct.
If the evolutionary explanation of eating behavior is correct then we should expect to such behavior is universal, present in young children before cultural or social learning takes place and is mirrored in the animal kingdom. One study that shows that such preferences are universal is “Universal dimensions of human mate preferences” by Todd K. Shackelford, David P. Schmitt, David M. Buss. This study showed how all animals has various preference when choosing mates. This is another point which supports the evolutionary idea, implying that we are “wired up” to have attractions to characteristics which would provide us with better odds in the game of life. Obviously adapted as a preference because the people with stronger healthier characteristics are more likely to survive.
This supports evolutionary theory because the preference to sugared foods in human is evidently subconscious, implying as if we are driven to these preferences as appose to making a conscious choice towards them, this provides the idea that the behavior is innate.
The liking of sugars and fatty foods is observed as being passed down through generations. A good study, which represents this, is one where as many people were taken from many different cultures and provided with the same foods, they’re preferences all trended towards the sugary and fatty foods. Another test, which gave young babies similar choices, showed the same trends. What this shows is that we all have some sort of inherited preferences in our blood so to speak, not given by the environment but instead provided through ancestral experiences.
This study supports evolutionary explanations because all the people came from different backgrounds ranging from old to young to rich to poor. Yet they all had similar preferences. Another great indicator is how the babies chose the similar food groups as preferred. They had no concept of the food and no background knowledge, proving these urges as sub conscious.
These studies can however be criticized, because they leave some preferences unexplained. Why is it that some people do have dislikes towards foods with sugars and fats? Surely all people should have universal preferences and we should all like the same things. If our preference for foods is hereditary then how is it that we all like different things on various levels? If the evolutionary theory is correct, how is it possible for us to differ in tastes? This therefore puts a few holes in the theory.
Another way the theory can be criticized as a whole is because it is reductionist. It only looks at one area of preference which is the sugary and fatty foods, as appose to preference as a whole. One could argue that the whole idea is un-scientific, as it does not use any logical method to resolve it. Had chemistry and biology been used to investigate the concept then perhaps the studies would be more plausible.
One massive and obvious problem with the whole argument is that it is teleological. There is no way to prove whether preference comes from our evolutionary cycle. We can’t go back it time and see if our predecessors really did have the same tastes, and therefore if we are accustomed to them ourselves for that reason. Because the whole concept can’t be properly proved it makes it very difficult to look at as a whole, all we can do is work on the basis of assumption. We can say maybe this happens because of this, but we wouldn’t be able to tell unless we put someone on a specific diet and make sure there offspring do the same and so on for the next 50 million years, which is a unlikely if not possible scenario all together.
There is obvious reasoning behind the idea that our tastes are inflicted by past tastes of our ancestors. Yet it is improbable that this is the main factor. Were these the main factor, why would we not of develop 100 % universal tastes after all this time? The food industry would have a slight problem if everyone liked the exact same thing.