A study published January 14, 2014 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that humans and other primates burn 50% fewer calories each day than other mammals of similar size. This slow metabolism, the researchers say, may help explain why humans and other primates grow up slower and live longer than most mammals.
An international team of scientists examined 17 primate species in zoos, sanctuaries and in the wild. Using a safe and non-invasive technique, they measured the number of calories the primates burned over a 10-day period. Herman Pontzer,Associate Professor of Anthropology at Hunter College, led the study. Pontzer said:
The results were a real surprise. Humans, chimpanzees, baboons and other primates expend only half the calories we’d expect for a mammal. To put that in perspective, a human – even someone with a very physically active lifestyle – would need to run a marathon each day just to approach the average daily energy expenditure of a mammal their size.
The study also found that primates in captivity expend as many calories each day as their counterparts living in the wild. The researchers say this suggests that physical activity may have less of an impact on daily energy expenditure than was previously believed.
Bottom line: Humans and other primates burn 50% fewer calories each day than other mammals of similar size. This slow metabolism, the researchers say, may help explain why humans and other primates grow up slower and live longer than most mammals.
Eleanor Imster has helped write and edit EarthSky since 1995. She was an integral part of the award-winning EarthSky radio series almost since it began until it ended in 2013. Today, as Lead Editor at EarthSky.org, she helps present the science and nature stories and photos you enjoy. She also serves as one of the voices of EarthSky on social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and G+. She and her husband live in Tennessee and have two grown sons.