Proceedings of the Nutrition Society

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Meeting Report

Human eating behaviour in an evolutionary ecological context

Stanley J. Ulijaszeka1

a1 Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Oxford, 51 Banbury Road, Oxford OX2 6PE, UK

Article author query

Ulijaszek SJ [PubMed]  [Google Scholar]


Present-day human eating behaviour in industrialised society is characterised by the consumption of high-energy-density diets and often unstructured feeding patterns, largely uncoupled from seasonal cycles of food availability. Broadly similar patterns of feeding are found among advantaged groups in economically-emerging and developing nations. Such patterns of feeding are consistent with the evolutionary ecological understanding of feeding behaviour of hominids ancestral to humans, in that human feeding adaptations are likely to have arisen in the context of resource seasonality in which diet choice for energy-dense and palatable foods would have been selected by way of foraging strategies for the maximisation of energy intake. One hallmark trait of human feeding behaviour, complex control of food availability, emerged with Homo erectus (19 × 106-200 000 years ago), who carried out this process by either increased meat eating or by cooking, or both. Another key trait of human eating behaviour is the symbolic use of food, which emerged with modern Homo sapiens (100 000 years ago to the present) between 25 000 and 12 000 years ago. From this and subsequent social and economic transformations, including the origins of agriculture, humans have come to use food in increasingly elaborate symbolic ways, such that human eating has become increasingly structured socially and culturally in many different ways.

Key Words: Feeding; Human evolution; Hominid diet; Energy


c1 Corresponding author: Dr Stanley Ulijaszek, fax +44 1865 274 699, email