Just like blue jeans, rock n’ roll and Coca Cola, our ‘western’ diet is being exported to the east and, at least this time, without positive consequences! Adults in Korea are experiencing higher risks of heart disease, diabetes and stroke, and it seems largely as a result of shifting patterns of diet. A study published in the journal, Diabetes Care, observed the changing rate of metabolic syndrome – a collection of risk factors for type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Those with metabolic syndrome have at least three of several risk factors including obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, low levels of “good” HDL cholesterol and high levels of triglycerides. In 1998, the study revealed that 25% of Korean adults, age 20 and older, had metabolic syndrome. By 2007, that rate had increased to just over 31%, fast approaching the 34% rate found in the US.
Unfortunately our western diet includes all of the ingredients for unhealthy living: high saturated fats, salts and carbohydrates, and low on dietary fiber. Our food choices result in high energy for a short period of time, but they leave us with the need for more of the same after we use these quick, convenient sources of fuel. The fats stick with us, though. Whether they show up in our hips or mid-sections or in our arteries as blood supply-clogging plaques, we suffer from our cultural norms in food choices.
As economic expansion has increased in Korean society, so has the slide toward unhealthy habits and poor choices in foods consumed. It seems Koreans are following the west in their eating habits, as well as their embrace of our advances in technology and convenience. Koreans are consuming more fast foods and processed meals than ever before in their culture. They are watching more TV and taking our cues on using technology for entertainment and consuming time, at the expense of exercise.
This is not an isolated condition in one eastern country. Rather, it’s a disturbing trend that is sweeping the east. A recent study of young adults in India showed steadily increasing rates of obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes in a sampling of subjects over a seven-year period. A World Bank study of India and other south Asian countries noted that people found in this region suffered their first heart attack at an average age of 53—six years earlier than in any other region!
So, not only are we imposing unhealthy trends among ourselves in the US, now we’re exporting our bad habits overseas! Granted, we’re not forcing our culture on other countries; actually, we are admired worldwide for our advances in technology, engineering, medicine and manufacturing, and other countries obviously seek to emulate us in many ways. That doesn’t mean however, that we’re necessarily worth emulating in every way, specifically when it comes to our diet! What can we do? We can be better to ourselves first! We can make healthier choices and take care of ourselves with a proper diet and exercise. We can make healthy eating part of our national culture! Others will hopefully follow. One day, exporting the western diet might be an asset to developing countries, rather than a liability! It all depends on the choices we make here at home!