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Baboon behavior offers clues in the all-too-human battle of the bulge

ST. LOUIS - Lack of exercise - and not diet - causes obesity and diabetes among those who are predisposed to the conditions, suggests new research on wild baboons by Saint Louis University geriatricians published this month in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

In addition, researchers discovered that obese animals were NOT the ones with the highest cholesterol levels, suggesting cholesterol problems and obesity are triggered by different mechanisms.

"Figuratively speaking, if humans don't exercise, some are likely to become obese and as fat as baboons. You're genetically predisposed or you're not," says William A. Banks, M.D., professor of geriatrics in the department of internal medicine and professor of pharmacological and physiological science at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. "Our research suggests some people get obese by not spending all the calories they are taking in rather than taking in a large number of calories."

Researchers studied the eating and exercise patterns of two groups of wild baboons in East Africa. One group of baboons had to forage for their food. The others found a stash of food that humans had discarded that was much closer to where they lived, which meant they expended much less energy for their daily food raids. The fat content and number of calories that both groups of baboons ate was about the same, but the baboons that ate the leftovers didn't have to work as hard to get their food.

"More than a third of the baboons that didn't have to exercise as much to get their food had indications of obesity, evidence of early diabetes caused by insulin resistance and elevated cholesterol levels," says Banks, who also is a staff physician at Veterans Affairs Medical Center in St. Louis.

"The baboons' condition is similar to a condition in people called metabolic Syndrome X. Everything breaks down at once as
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Contact: Nancy Solomon
solomonn@slu.edu
314-977-8017
Saint Louis University
11-Mar-2003


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