Humans carry proportionately more fat than elephants, study suggests

Alexandra Thompson
·2 min read
Elephants do not carry as much fat as their large frame may suggest. (Stock,
Elephants do not carry as much fat as their large frame may suggest. (Stock,

Most would be rather offended if someone compared their physique to that of an elephant, however, new research suggests the world’s largest land mammal is proportionately slimmer than humans.

Captive elephants were generally thought to be overweight, with many worrying this could reduce their fertility.

To learn more, scientists from Indiana University measured the amount of fat these animals carry.

Perhaps surprisingly, results suggest captive elephants tend to be made up of no more than 10% fat.

Read more: Skipping dinner linked to 74% higher risk of obesity

This is considerably less than a healthy human, whose fat levels can reach 31%.

A Measuring Tape on a Weight Scale
More than 4 million people worldwide die every year as a result of being overweight or obese. (Stock, Getty Images)

The scientists fed 44 Asian elephants a set volume of water, soaked up by bread.

This volume was then subtracted from the elephant’s body mass index, providing an indictor of its fat levels.

The results – published in the Journal of Experimental Biologysuggest the female animal carries around 10% fat, while the males slightly less at 8.5%.

A healthy human can be between 6% and 31% fat.

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Less fat was carried by the infertile elephants, which the scientists compared to underweight women often struggling to conceive.

The heaviest animals also had elevated levels of insulin, the blood sugar-lowering hormone.

“It is possible elephants could develop a diabetic-like state,” said study author Daniella Chusy.

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The impact of obesity

More than 4 million people die a year as a result of being overweight or obese, with the World Health Organization claiming the “issue has grown to epidemic proportions”.

More people are said to be obese than underweight in every global region, aside from sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.

Carrying a dangerous amount of weight has been linked to a host of medical conditions, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, arthritis and certain cancers.

Amid the pandemic, statistics have repeatedly flagged obese people are more likely to endure coronavirus complications.

Read more: Obesity rising among reception-aged children in England

Just under a third (29%) of the global population is overweight, of whom 9% are obese.

In November 2020, scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany warned more than 4 billion people worldwide could be overweight by 2050 if our unhealthy eating habits continue.

Watch: Boris Johnson says he is ‘living embodiment’ of obesity risk amid pandemic