Indigenous people in the Arctic who’ve been eating polar bears since the Stone Age are getting fat for the first time ever, and scientists blame the creep of a Western diet full of nonperishable, sugary junk food. Researchers have never before recorded obesity in the Nenet or Khaty populations — groups that have been living hunter-gatherer existences for tens of thousands of years. Russia’s director for science and innovation in the region where they live tells the Siberian Times that for them, being overweight is “a nonsensical modern problem.” Yet their intake of venison and fish has fallen by half in recent years, and he says 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, proving you can flee to the ends of the Earth and still not be safe from modern overprocessed foods.
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.”