The “mismatch” between evolved human physiology and Western lifestyles is thought to explain the current epidemic of cardiovascular disease (CVD) in industrialized societies. However, this hypothesis has been difficult to test because few populations concurrently span ancestral and modern lifestyles. To address this gap, we collected interview and biomarker data from individuals of Turkana ancestry who practice subsistence-level, nomadic pastoralism (the ancestral way of life for this group), as well as individuals who no longer practice pastoralism and live in urban areas. We found that Turkana who move to cities exhibit poor cardiometabolic health, partially because of a shift toward “Western diets” high in refined carbohydrates. We also show that being born in an urban area independently predicts adult health, such that life-long city dwellers will experience the greatest CVD risk. By focusing on a substantial lifestyle gradient, our work thus informs the timing, magnitude, and evolutionary causes of CVD.
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