The Nutritional Transition and Its Health Effects

With people living longer, and with low birth weight at an all-time low, Asian health should be improving. But with increased Westernization of the Asian diet, elevated tobacco use (generally among Asian men), and lifestyle changes (such as decreased physical activity), there has been a marked rise in cardiovascular disease (CVD), diabetes mellitus, hypertension (high blood pressure), and certain cancers. Obesity is also a growing health problem in Asia, and is strongly associated with hypertension (along with body mass index and age). Despite the low obesity levels in the Asia Pacific region, rates of obesity-related diseases such as diabetes and CVD are on the rise. High blood pressure is also a growing problem in Asia. In India, Indonesia, and Thailand alone, nearly 10 to 15 percent of adults have high

The plant-based Asian diet, with its heavy reliance on rice, is reflected in the Asian food pyramid. The Asian diet does not include much meat or dairy and is low in total fat. [2000 Oldways Preservation & Exchange Trust. Reproduced by permission.]

blood pressure. Hypertension is dangerous because it increases a person's risk of developing CVD or having a stroke.

Changes in the dietary intake patterns of Asian countries have been called the nutritional transition, meaning a shift away from the traditional Asian diets to a more varied diet higher in sugars, fats, and processed foods. This new eating trend includes fewer carbohydrates and fiber and is higher in fat and meat. Together with a shift towards physical inactivity, obesity among the Asian population has risen. The nutritional and health effects of these new foods contribute to higher mortality rates due to CVD in many Asian countries.

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