Disease Proof

Do Primitive Peoples Really Live Longer?

No. For example, Inuit Greenlanders, who historically have had limited access to fruits and vegetables, have the worst longevity statistics in North America. Research from the past and present shows that they die on the average about 10 years younger and have a higher rate of cancer than the overall Canadian population.1

Similar statistics are available for the high meat-consuming Maasai in Kenya. They eat a diet high in wild hunted meats and have the worst life expectancy in the modern world. Life expectancy is 45 years for women and 42 years for men. African researchers report that, historically, Maasai rarely lived beyond age 60. Adult mortality figures on the Kenyan Maasai show that they have a 50% chance of dying before the age of 59.2

We now know that greatly increasing the consumption of vegetables, legumes, fruits, and raw nuts and seeds (and greatly decreasing the consumption of animal products) offers profound increased longevity potential, due in large part to broad symphony of life-extending phytochemical nutrients that a vegetable-based diet contains. By taking advantage of the year-round availability of high-quality plant foods, we have a unique opportunity to live both healthier and longer than ever before in human history.

1. Iburg KM, Bronnum-Hansen H, Bjerregaard P. Health expectancy in Greenland. Scand J Public Health 2001;29(1):5-12. Choinere R. Mortality among the Baffin Inuit in the mid-80s. Arctive Med Res 1992;51 (2):87-93.

2. http://www.kenya.za.net/maasai-cycles-of-life.html

UPDATE: The above links are dead, refer to this link: http://www.who.int/countries/ken/en/

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Comments (15) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
KRITER - November 13, 2007 8:52 AM

Is thair any primitive people who eat vegan diet and how long do thay liv?

osagie irowa - April 16, 2008 5:01 AM

I agree with this info. Africans and west indians who tend to eat a diet high in animal fat rarely live past the age of 65. However, a diet high in fruit sugar is also not beneficial. It's about balance as always.

Matt R. - May 2, 2008 11:24 PM

For the Masai, there are other factors in their early deaths, namely development encroaching on their semi-arid grazing lands, poor supplies of clean water, lack of sanitation, non-existent medical care and high levels of waterborne disease. I don't know that more veggies would help in this case.

jon w - December 9, 2009 6:48 PM

I never heard the claim that they live longer... with poor or no medical care, infant mortality and accidents and infectious disease all take a toll on life expectancy. but for those who do make it to old age, it's nice to know that they are free of obesity, heart disease, cancer, dementia, etc. since there are no "primitive vegetarians" (this is a modern invention), could it have something to do with the lack of sugar and vegetable oil and other modern processed junk? hmmm.

Peter - May 20, 2010 8:21 PM

Hi, this post was linked to from a paleo diet website that I frequent and I feel the need to comment on it.

This post blatantly ignores the golden rule of statistical research: correlation does not prove causation. It does not necessarily follow from lower life expectancy statistics that high meat and low vegetable consumption is the cause. There could be thousands of possible reasons why these indigenous peoples have lower life expectancy. Maybe they don't have access to modern medical science. Maybe there physical lifestyles subject them to more death related injuries. Maybe infant mortality is skewing the statistic.

If people go inside when it rains, you cannot claim that people going indoors causes it to rain. This is not the way the world works. In order to really see what is going on there must be random, double blind studies that control for external variables.

karl - May 20, 2010 8:42 PM

Not to mention lack of modern medical care and facilities. I could be wrong in saying this, but don't we all have a 50% chance of dying? I either live, or I die.

There is no doubt that a diet that allows for vegetables and some fruit can be beneficial to our health, but to compare the diet and lifestyle of primitive cultures who do not have the facilities and medications and procedures that we have to keep up alive (doctors, hospitals, ambulances and so on), and in many cases unhealthy while alive for longer, is a weak comparison.

I would much rather live a vibrant life into my 60's to die "early" than be kept alive by statin drugs or other medications which simply prolong the number of years I live.

kev m - May 21, 2010 7:08 AM

Matt. R. nailed it on the head. far more factors are in play for these mortality rates. I'm more interested in seeing the morbidity numbers associated with a vegetable base vs. a typical hunter/gatherer meat and veggie diets.

luke - May 21, 2010 7:11 AM

Kudos to Matt.

This post blatantly disregards the fact that correlation does not prove causation! This is a rule all science and statistics is based off of.

jibbs - May 21, 2010 2:43 PM

this is a load of bull...no thanks i'll stick to my predominantly meat diet and live a long healthy life thank you very much

The Dude - July 2, 2010 11:24 AM

You say that these indigenous people who don't eat many vegetables (presumably they eat mostly meat and fat) die younger, but you don't point to any evidence that suggests it's because of their diet. Could it have anything to do with the fact that they're "primitive people?" I usually don't associate "Primitive" with "Great health care."

"By taking advantage of the year-round availability of high-quality plant foods, we have a unique opportunity to live both healthier and longer than ever before in human history."

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that antibiotics alone have given humans this "unique opportunity to live ...healthier and longer..."

Kartal - September 23, 2010 12:59 PM

The Okinawans eat pork and cook in lard..


It is rarely reported that they eat pork and cooked their vegtables in lard but this seems to be the case. i also did read a transcript from one of the centurians also confiming this.

Jude Austin - October 10, 2010 8:36 AM

I have just read your page on the drawbacks of a low carb high fat diet. I then read an article about a Dr J Kwasniewski who advocates a lhigh fat low carb diet and claims to have cured hundreds of patients with life threatening diseases. I am very confused. I believe he also has scientific studies to prove his theory,


Blake S. - February 13, 2011 6:24 PM

This whole post is an example of what's wrong with the world of nutrition. From the abstract of the study in the first footnote:

"Life expectancy at birth is 66.6 years, approximately 10 years lower than that for the general Canadian population (76.3 years). Injuries and poisoning, neoplasms, and diseases of the respiratory system are the leading causes of death observed among the Baffin Inuit. For each of these causes, the rates obtained for the Inuit are significantly higher than those for the total population of Canada."

I can't remember how to access PubMed right now, but notice what's lacking in the list of leading causes of death? Heart disease...the leading cause of death in Americans.

As Matt mentioned, the reference to the Masai is utterly stupid. And then there are the claims in the last paragraph that have no cites. Good job.

kervennic - March 17, 2012 8:08 AM

This is complete crap, it is well documented that inuits before their switch to western diets were free from cancer.
See gary taube article "is sugar toxic" in the nyt for the list of reference.

RIZQI - July 9, 2012 5:11 AM

no its not wrong a lot of people try to diet to look good. hoewver if you start dieting for health reasons, youre more likely to have better motivation (ie i want to live a healthy life vs i want to look good in a dress tonight.)it's really not that bad. it's just your personal motivation to lose weight. the only thing to keep in mind is that you need to stay healthy. i dont know your body so i cant say for sure that 110 is too little for someone of your height, but to tell you the truth that sounds like too little so be careful!!!

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