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Growing fatter in Asia

By David Swartzentruber
AseanAffairs   7 July 2010

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A preconception that westerners have that actually holds true now, but may not necessarily be maintained in future generations, is that Asians are shorter and leaner than westerners.

A glance around any Asean city or town would confirm that. However, that glance would also suggest that Aseans are also becoming fatter.

This writer is not a big fan of fast food but about four years ago, noontime hunger pangs suddenly struck near a McDonald’s close to a leading Thai university.

Upon entering, the hamburger heaven was swarming with female university students in their distinctive black and white uniforms. I also noticed that a number were not have what one might describe as the traditional Thai female figure, but, in fact, were quite “filled out.”

My mind clicked, “Perhaps they lunch here every day.”

This memory was renewed by a story out of Vietnam confirmed by Australian researchers that there is a significant rise in type 2 diabetes in Ho Chi Minh City.

Researcher Tuan Nguyen placed the blame squarely on the adoption of the Western diet and felt strongly the findings would translate to other Asian countries.

That argument may have merit as for example, traditional Asian diets are not centered on beef but chicken and fish. White rice, as opposed to brown rice, however, is a diabetes starter and most Asian countries prefer white rice.

However, the effects of a more sedentary lifestyle thanks to the prevalence of television is also a major contributing factor.

The pull of western culture is strong in Asia, primarily because western countries for the most part are more affluent than Asian countries and Asians, therefore, like to emulate them.

And a walk down supermarket aisles in a major Asian capital reveals a large amount of snack food to go along with the many hours of TV viewing.

Greater affluence also tends to produce a generation that tends to abandon traditional ways, among them that number, the traditional diet.

In 2000, there were a handful of Italian restaurants, but during the past decade the number has swelled to more than 400.

In the pell-mell rush in Asian urban centers, to adopt what is trendy and chic from the west, many things may be lost in Asia, perhaps one important thing-health.

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