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March 2013    
<< Home    Volume 12 Issue 03

The Mediterranean Diet Is a Weight-Gainer The Asian Diet Should Be Our Goal
by Jeff Novick, RD

 

Once again the Mediterranean Diet is in the news for its health promoting properties. Not only is this diet promoted for its “heart healthy” benefits, it is also sold to the public as the best way to achieve and to maintain a healthy body weight. However, I have come to the opposite conclusion.

 

In order to provide proof beyond any reasonable doubt of the culpability of diet, I have put this table together showing the incidence of obesity compared to fat intake in various countries worldwide. (I have highlighted the countries of Southeast and East Asia in green and the Mediterranean countries in yellow. The few countries in these regions that have become westernized are highlighted in blue.)

 

Country Name

Obesity - adult prevalence rate (%)

Year of Estimate

Region

Tonga

56

2000

C Polynesia

Kiribati

51

2006

Central Tropical Pacific

Saudi Arabia

36

2000

Western Asia

United States

34

2006

Unite States

United Arab Emirates

34

2000

Arabian Peninsula

Egypt

30

2006

NE Africa (MED)

Kuwait

29

2000

Arabian Peninsula

New Zealand

27

2007

New Zealand

Seychelles

25

2004

Africa

Fiji

24

2004

Melanesia

Mexico

24

2000

South America

Canada

23

2004

Canada

Israel

23

2001

Middle East (MED)

United Kingdom

23

2002

Europe

Greece

23

2003

SE Europe (MED)

Croatia

22

2003

Central Europe (MED)

Chile

22

2003

South America

Bosnia and Herzegovina

22

2002

SE Europe

Malta

21

2007

S Europe (MED)

Lithuania

20

2006

N Europe

Jordan

20

2004

Middle East

Poland

18

2001

C Europe

Hungary

18

2004

C Europe

France

17

2007

W Europe (MED)

Australia

16

2005

Australia

Malaysia

16

2006

SE Asia

Peru

16

2000

S American

Turkey

16

2007

SE Europe & W Asia (MED)

Morocco

16

2000

N African (MED)

Zimbabwe

16

2005

S Africa

Finland

16

2008

N Europe

Spain

16

2007

SW Europe (MED)

Latvia

16

2006

N Europe

Czech Republic

15

2002

C Europe

Slovenia

15

2001

C Europe (MED)

Estonia

14

2004

N Europe

Slovakia

14

2002

C Europe

Portugal

14

2005

SW Europe

Iran

14

2005

W Asia

Colombia

14

2007

NW S America

Lebanon

14

2004

E Mediterranean (MED)

Ireland

13

2002

NW Europe

Germany

13

2003

WC Europe

Iceland

12

2002

Europe

Bulgaria

12

2001

SE Europe

Sweden

12

2009

N Europe

Cuba

12

2002

Caribbean

Denmark

11

2006

N Europe

Brazil

11

2003

S America

Austria

11

2008

C Europe

Belgium

11

2001

W Europe

Norway

10

2009

Scandinavia

Mongolia

10

2005

East & Central Asia.

Italy

10

2005

S Europe

Romania

9

2000

Central & SE Europe

Switzerland

8

2007

W Europe

Thailand

8

2003

SE Asia

Singapore

7

2004

SE Asia

Philippines

4

2003

SE Asia

Eritrea

3

2004

Africa

Korea, South

3

2001

SE Asia

Japan

3

2000

SE Asia

China

3

2002

SE Asia

Indonesia

2

2001

SE Asia

Madagascar

2

2005

Africa

Laos

1

2000

SE Asia

Vietnam

1

2000

SE Asia

 

Nine out of 11 of the countries with the lowest rates of obesity (<10% incidence) are in Southeast and East Asia. The one exception is Malaysia. If I include Malaysia in this region of the world then the obesity rate is 4.8 percent. When I exclude Malaysia, which has had in recent years a more rapid transition to a diet of animal foods and oils then the rest of Asia, then the obesity rate is only 3.6 percent.

 

Now look at the Mediterranean countries. Most of them fall in the middle range of obesity incidence, with the only exception being Italy, which has a fairly low rate of obesity. (However, the rate of obesity among Italian children is high, indicating a trend toward joining other Mediterranean countries in the near future.) When Italy is included, then the average obesity rate for the Mediterranean countries is 18.8 percent. Without Italy, it is 19.6 percent.

 

While education and financial matters are often cited as important variables, I can confidently tell you that these are not the problem. Consider that some of the strongest economies are in Southeast and East Asia where people are trim and healthy. Bankruptcies are everyday news in the Mediterranean regions. Educational achievement follows a similar pattern, with the highest levels found throughout Asia.

 

Comparing rates of obesity worldwide gives the most compelling clues about the best diets for achieving and maintaining a trim body weight. In Asia, where the bulk of the food is rice, with no dairy foods, and very little meat, fewer than 5 percent of people are obese. Make nuts and olive oil a focus of eating, i.e. the Mediterranean Diet, and the obesity rates hit 20 percent. In the US and other Western countries, where meat, dairy products, and vegetable oils satisfy people’s appetites, overweight and obesity have become the norm. (Obesity is a more severe form of being overweight, which affects nearly two-thirds of Americans.)

 

Even more than the obnoxious habit of smoking, the greatest health challenge to the US and other Western countries is the food, which causes obesity and associated illnesses, such as type-2 diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and common cancers (breast, prostate, and colon). Obesity now affects 34 percent of Americans. My conclusion from this worldwide comparison is that it is time for doctors, dietitians, scientists, and national leaders to focus on rice instead of nuts and olive oil in an effort to solve the obesity epidemic. My advice to individuals is to forget the Mediterranean Diet—you and your family deserve better.

© 2013 John McDougall All Rights Reserved
Dr. McDougall's Health and Medical Center
P.O. Box 14039, Santa Rosa, CA 95402

http://www.drmcdougall.com