It is not often that newly-published peer-reviewed research gets spoofed on late night television, but that was the case for a recent study by Herman Pontzer, associate professor of evolutionary anthropology and global health.
Pontzer was watching The Late Show with Stephen Colbert when he heard a joke referencing his ground-breaking new study on human metabolic rates.
“A new study finds that your metabolism doesn’t slow down in your middle age,” Colbert joked. “But I have a report of my own: yes it does.”
The findings revealed that contrary to popular belief, which suggests that our metabolism slows down in our 20s and 30s, there is actually no such effect.
The first-of-its-kind study, both in scale and complexity, included participants ranging from eight days old to over 90 years old. The researchers measured how many calories the participants burned over various periods of time as well as how factors such as body size and age affected those rates.
“We found that there are four distinct metabolic phases in life,” Pontzer said. “Zero to one years old, one to 20 years old, 20 to 60 years old and over 60 years old.”
These unexpected findings have important implications in how we understand drug prescription, obesity, healthcare and more. Pontzer also hopes that his findings will advance how we approach medicine and nutrition.
“When you take medicine everyday, your body metabolizes that medicine. It breaks it down and clears it out,” he said. “Children have a very high metabolic rate for their size; older people above 60 have a slow metabolic rate for their size. So it could be that the actions of those medications will be different just because they get cleared out of the body at different speeds.”
Such wide-scale and detailed studies are expensive, so there had never been a concrete understanding of how human metabolism changes over time. In the years prior to this breakthrough, a narrative was developed that our bodies shift in our late 20’s—leading to weight gain—whereas it is now understood that a mixture of environmental and biological factors likely affect such changes.
“We often think about metabolism—because of its coverage in the media—about exercise or diet, but it’s actually about so much more than that,” Pontzer said.
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Connor Booher is a Trinity sophomore and a staff reporter for The Chronicle's 117th volume.