Monday, July 09, 2012

Fast Westernized Food, Not Fitness or Weight, Increases Diabetes and Heart Disease Risk

What cool data.

Researchers from the Universities of Minnesota, Singapore and Pittsburgh joined together to explore the impact of westernized eating on the incidence of type 2 diabetes and fatal heart attacks in Chinese Singaporeans between the years 1993-1998.

It was a unique study population in that the authors report that western-style fast food intake in east and southeast Asia only became somewhat prominent in the very late 80s and early 90s.  The authors also had data on the subjects' age, smoking habits, alcohol, education, BMI, total caloric intake, exercise and sleep duration.

The final analysis involved 43,176 participants and self-reported incidence of type 2 diabetes and death from coronary heart disease were scored against fast food intake (derived from a food frequency questionnaire specifically designed to discern between western style fast food and traditional Asian fast food) and controlled for those variables listed above.

Individuals who reported eating western style fast food more than twice weekly had a 27% increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes and a 56% increased risk of a fatal heart attack compared with those who reported not eating western style fast food. Things were worse for those who reported eating western style fast food more than 4x weekly with their risk of fatal heart attack being increased by 80%.

But that's not the fascinating part, this is. Not only were those risks independent of the various potential confounding controls, but according to the authors and contrary to what you might expect, participants who reported more frequent westernized fast food were younger, less likely to be hypertensive, more educated, smoked less and were more likely to be physically active - and those behaviours still didn't protect them from the risks of junk food.

Now of course there are real and dramatic limitations to this study with the two largest being that food frequency questionnaires stink as a whole and in this case were only administered once and that self reported diabetes rates may miss many who had diabetes at the outset of the study. That said, if these results are valid it would suggest that the denormalization of restaurants and processed convenience foods and the renormalizing of our kitchens and true whole ingredient transformative cooking are important public health targets - independent of any concerns or interventions geared to tackle obesity. 

Fast food's bad for everyone, regardless of their weights.  This week, if it's not something you do regularly, how about one from scratch homemade meal?

[Free PDF of the paper by clicking here]