Ancestral Health and Academia

I have come to the Ancestral Health space via both my academic background and my work as a practitioner.  As a nutritionist coming through the science route, we were taught the metabolic pathways throughout our undergraduate degree, but the disconnect between nutrient processes in the body and foods that are promoted as healthy didn’t raise red flags with me as it did for other nutritionists. In addition, moving through my academic career I was largely of the opinion that the only nutrition-related evidence that mattered was the clinical trials conducted in a laboratory or the epidemiological observations made from studying populations. It is an easy trap to fall into, particularly in the nutrition space where what we should be eating is contested with the same vigour as religious beliefs. Having the fallback position of a university qualification in science (and post-graduate qualifications to boot) did not serve to expand my understanding of health and nutrition along the way; instead the opposite was true. I was largely dismissive of other avenues of evidence given the ‘gold standard’ qualification I’d already received.

The concept of looking at health through an evolutionary lens made so much sense to me that it stripped away a lot of the barriers I had subconsciously put up that prevented me from seeking information from elsewhere.

The light-bulb moment for me came via a personal health issue that forced me to reconsider what I deemed to be healthy. I stumbled into the area of evolutionary health almost by accident, and suddenly information I’d been trivialising for years began to resonate with me with such a force that it took me by surprise. I’ve always been passionate about health and wellbeing, and here I’d finally found information that served to ignite it further. Yet this was different from what I understood to be healthy – not in all areas by any means – but the differences that did exist were poles apart from what I had been promoting for the last 10 years in my role as a nutritionist and as an educator. The concept of looking at health through an evolutionary lens made so much sense to me that it stripped away a lot of the barriers I had subconsciously put up that prevented me from seeking information from elsewhere.  While I’ve always believed in the importance of looking at health from a holistic place, this has, I believe, placed me in a position to be better able to understand modern health issues in the context of how we are designed to move, eat, sleep and live. Evolutionary health provides an evidence-based framework to advocate for changes to current models of health which are largely unsuccessful for individuals, communities and society as a whole.

I am, therefore, excited to be involved in the inception of the Ancestral Health Society of New Zealand, and anticipate this society to be the platform for bringing together others who share my passion for health. The last ten or more years has seen obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer rates sky rocket in New Zealand, with our most vulnerable populations at greatest risk. This has been fuelled firstly by expensive and poorly evaluated public health campaigns that were geared towards prevention, which were replaced by government policy focusing on treatment rather than prevention. This has created a health crisis that cannot be supported in the long term by the public health dollar and affects the health of every individual in our population. Coupled by longer work hours, faster paced lives, increasing demands on our income and industrial and technological decisions that serve to devastate our land and not preserve it, the ‘clean, green, New Zealand’ we pride ourselves on is being destroyed at such a rate that any individual would feel powerless to prevent. While some may view these issues as unrelated, they all cumulate to adversely affect our health and well-being and the health of our future generations. The AHSNZ brings together people with a shared passion to advocate for health as a collective whole. The more recent focus on nutrition, physical activity and the environment from segments of the academic, industrial and corporate sectors makes me feel quite strongly that New Zealanders are looking for answers outside of the current model of health. The AHSNZ can be the platform to bring individuals together as a collective voice.

Mikki Williden, PhD. is a Registered Nutritionist and Senior Lecturer at AUT University.  She is the Programme Leader for the Graduate Diploma and Certificate in Sport and Exercise Science in AUT’s School of Sport and Recreation, Faculty of Health and Environmental Sciences.  Mikki blogs at www.mikkiwilliden.com