Adolescence is characterized by more sedentary behaviour and less physical activity even among highly active forager-farmers

Ann E. Caldwell, Daniel Cummings, Paul L. Hooper, Benjamin C. Trumble, Michael Gurven, Jonathan Stieglitz, Helen Davis, and Hillard Kaplan


Over 80% of adolescents worldwide are insufficiently active, posing massive public health and economic challenges. Declining physical activity (PA) and sex differences in PA consistently accompany transitions from childhood to adulthood in post-industrialized populations and are attributed to psychosocial and environmental factors. An overarching evolutionary theoretical framework and data from pre-industrialized populations are lacking. This cross-sectional study tests hypotheses from life history theory, that adolescent PA is inversely related to age, but this association is mediated by Tanner stage, reflecting higher and sex-specific energetic demands for growth and reproductive maturation. Detailed measures of PA and pubertal maturation are assessed among Tsimane forager-farmers (age: 7–22 years; 50% female, n = 110). Most Tsimane sampled (71%) meet World Health Organization PA guidelines (greater than or equal to 60 min/day of moderate-to-vigorous PA). Like post-industrialized populations, sex differences and inverse age-activity associations were observed. Tanner stage significantly mediated age-activity associations. Adolescence presents difficulties to PA engagement that warrant further consideration in PA intervention approaches to improve public health.

Published in

Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, vol. 290, n. 2010, November 2023