From a gene-culture evolutionary perspective, the recent rise in obesity rates around the Developed world is unprecedented; perhaps the most rapid population-scale shift in human phenotype ever to occur.
Focusing on the recent rise of obesity and diabetes in the United States, we consider the predictions of human behavioral ecology (HBE) versus the predictions of social learning (SL) of obesity through cultural traditions and/or peer–to–peer influence. To isolate differences that might discriminate these different models, we first explore temporal and geographic trends in the inverse correlation between household income and obesity and diabetes rates in the U.S.
Whereas by 2015 these inverse correlations were strong, these correlations were non-existent as recently as 1990. The inverse correlations have evolved steadily over recent decades, and we present equations for their time evolution since 1990. We then explore evidence for a “social multiplier” effect at county scale over a ten-year period, as well as a social diffusion pattern at state scale over a 26–year period.
We conclude that these patterns support HBE and SL as factors driving obesity, with HBE explaining ultimate causation.
As a specific “ecological” driver for this human behavior, we speculate that refined sugar in processed foods may be a prime driver of increasing obesity and diabetes.