Why we’re getting fatter: The link between locusts and obesity


My research into locusts began when I was a PHD student, ages ago, decades ago and I was really interested in why they swarm. But along the way I became fascinated by their appetite. How it is that they knew what to eat and when to eat it. Locusts have a fearsome reputation for their insatiable appetite, but actually they demonstrate exquisite nutritional wisdom. They have separate appetites for protein, fat and carbohydrate, and protein is the most powerful. So they don’t feel full until they’ve eaten enough protein. We’re just like locusts, we too have a special appetite for protein and unless we reach our quota, we don’t feel full. The problem is, in our modern fast food society, protein is diluted in our diet with extra fat and carbohydrates. So to get to our quota for protein we end up eating too many calories and that impacts our waistline. Obesity isn’t just about the waistline, as people put on weight they start to suffer a series of metabolic disturbances. Insulin resistance starts to build up and that leads inextricably to type two diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and other problems. It’s been a surprising journey, but when I think back, as a young PHD student if I had gone to a research council and asked for money to study locusts because one day I would have a better understanding of human obesity and metabolic disease, they would have laughed at me. But that’s the power of pure research, real innovation has sometimes unlikely beginnings.

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