Is Westernization really to blame for the increase in diabetes?

I’ve read that Western fast food is to blame for the increase in diabetes. I suspect that it’s not entirely true though. India and China are exploding with new diabetes cases. However, I doubt that these are due to the wide-scale adoption of Western eating practices. Both India and China have very specific styles of cuisine, and these tend to be high in carbs (like the vegetarian diet) or cause problems with blood sugars for diabetics. Could the increase in cases be due to the wider penetration of Western medicine and techniques into these (and other “developing”) countries?

One of the articles I read notes that diabetes is more prevalent in urban areas - I know that in South Africa it is far more possible to get adequate health care in urban areas than it is in rural spaces. You are therefore more likely to be diagnosed as diabetic if you live in an urban area.

I don’t think so. I personally think that they are finding it more now, only because they are actually looking for it now! If you don’t look for something, how are you going to find something! You’re not going to!! Know what I mean? That goes for the rise in T2 in children. How do they know it’s on the rise? Have they always been checking children for T2? NO, they haven’t! That is a more recent thing that has been going on. So, in reality, they can’t say, with any certainty, that T2 is on the rise in children!

I agree that obesity is on the rise. I believe that is attributed to lives that are less active. People work longer hours these days, often in sit in place jobs, as well as many have to travel farther to and from work. Then, they’re so worn out by the weekend, all they want to do is relax.When you GO GO GO all week, who wants to GO GO GO all weekend?

Children are are also less active these days. The world isn’t a safe place to let your kids run around, like when I was a kid, or even when my children were kids! As well as with parents working longer hours, and both parents having to work these days, kids are often left at home, and aren’t allowed to go outside to play (because it’s not safe!). So what do they do? They sit inside the house and play video games, lay around watching TV, or sit on the puter! No physical activity! A LOT of schools are also taking recess out of the elementary schools! This is a HUGE mistake, I believe! Not only for the extra physical activity it gives the children, but also, kids NEED to let off steam. They’re cooped up in a classroom all day, then cooped up at home the rest of the time. No wonder kids are having the behavioral issues they have today! Well, there are other extenuating circumstances that are causing that as well. But, that’s a whole 'nuther story there!

I also don’t think that obesity has much to do with GETTING T2 Diabetes! There are just TOO many overweight people in the world who do NOT have Diabetes, to support that claim! Then you have the people who say, “Well, it doesn’t run in MY family!”, well do you HONESTLY know that, for sure? Has your parents, grandparents, great grandparents, aunts, uncles, great aunts and uncles, cousins (closely and more distantly related), been tested? The T2 testing revolution really only got into high gear for ADULTS in the 80’s and 90’s! How many of your family had passed away before that time, and was never tested for T2?

Also, just because something hasn’t been discovered yet, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist! They only “discovered” T2 in the 1950’s. But, it has been around for eons, I’m sure! It just hadn’t been discovered, and a name put to it! We know Diabetes has been known about, for thousands of years! So, it’s a real probable fact that T2 was a part of Diabetes, there was just no differentiation between the two (T1 & T2), until the 1950’s. Again, you have to actually LOOK for something, in order to find something!

Why the price of food went up? because of the soaring population all over the world, and the standard of living improved, so people have money to eat better, fast or not, the life style improved, aching machine in every household in my village, people do not bake their bread, in the cities more people have their own cars ( speaking about Egypt),less daily activities, more weight gain (+ less activity),the poor pancreases cannot take it in those WHO ARE GENETICALLY predisposed, though type2 diabetes happen in many normal weight people…

No. It is not. There’s a lot of evidence that environmental poisoning from plastics, pesticides, arsenic etc have caused genetic damage starting in the womb that affect insulin resistance and are able to cause diabetes in people who would not otherwise have gotten it.

Blaming the victims is much easier than getting the plastic out of our food cans, packaging, baby bottles, etc, etc.

Here’s a discussion of the peer reviewed research pointing to some causes of diabetes: You Did Not Eat Your Way to Diabetes

The evidence linking Bisphenol A to genetic damage is discussed on my blog HERE

There are also studies linking the chemicals in nonstick pan coatings with persistence in our bodies and damage.


I’m not a mathematician or an epidemiologist, but I suspect that we might be dealing with a simple genealogical “network effect”, in that more people with diabetes are living productive (and more importantly reproductive) lives these days due to modern medicine. In an odd way Western medicine, starting with the production of insulin in the 20s, opened the door for larger numbers of diabetics to live long lives. Before 1922 diabetes was a death sentence. People now not only live to be old enough to have children, but also have every reason to believe that the risk of passing genetic propensity to develop diabetes to their children is mitigated by our ability to effectively manage the disease. Three of four generations of people who would not have lived a century ago is probably a good chunk of the diabetes “explosion.”

Sort of. I was living in South Korea, and I saw the onslaught of incoming Western foods like fast food, hamburgers, sandwiches, steak, pasta, and other parts of Western food. Some parts of this diet is bad, some parts are good, but this array of dishes is not causing diabetes. Besides, Koreans generally eat tons of rice (3 bowls a day clocking in at about 180 carbs aside from the other food). Either rice or noodles is served with every single meal, and so is an array of side dishes that are rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, etc. This makes for balanced meals, which is great. (in Korea even pizza is served with sweet pickles and kimchi on the side because they’re not used to eating so much of one flavor, and it seems bland).

Anyway, my point is this. It’s the processed foods. Go to the grocery stores, look at what the kids are eating. It’s hard to find whole foods; everything comes in a box, and it’s loaded with chemicals and lacking nutritional value. There’s all kinds of processed foods, and they often take the place of traditional home cooking. There’s a 7/11 or equivalent on almost every block, and there is not one healthy real food in there. It’s cheap, it’s convenient, but processed food is loaded with carbs and has virtually no nutritional, vitamin, or mineral content. Ramen noodles are in the news because Koreans think it is destroying their children’s health (there’s been a big trend towards healthy life styles lately). All this processed garbage must be having an impact.

I’m in agreement with Jenny on chemical causes, that’s definitely concerning, but we can’t ignore the food.

Thanks Jenny, your blog post really helped me when I was first diagnosed.

I was looking at some blogs, and came across this: “What might be devastating to someone in a developed country is usually the sign that heralds the loss of a family’s livelihood and poverty becomes inevitable. In these parts of the world, artificial lower limbs are ok for walking but not adequate for hard manual work – and these patients tend to be middle aged with maximal domestic responsibilities and providing for several generations. In India, these patients aren’t overweight and obese like in America, but instead lean and strong agricultural workers”

Again, it’s an indication that being obese and eating a Western-style diet are not the reasons for diabetes.

Ok, so as I see it we have a couple of hypotheses for the reason for the diabetes “explosion”:

  1. Modern lifestyles are less active, and safety concerns keep people indoors
  2. Previously undiagnosed diabetes in the family is now being triggered in younger generations
  3. Medicine now helps diabetics live longer and reproduce, increasing the diabetic genes in the pool
  4. Processed foods
  5. Environmental triggers (plastics, pesticides) are affecting babies in the womb and altering genes

Hmmm, I think I’m doing to do some research into epidemiology.

Jenny, that is an interesting point. Maybe the numbers in india and china explode because of the working conditions where many people are heavily exposed to dangerous materials. This in combination with new eating happits makes an eligible cause for T2.

Okay, I’ve been googling diabetes and epidemiology, and this is what I have found. I looked mainly in terms of South Africa, because I’m most familiar with it. It’s interesting to note that in SA the Asian and Indian populations have by far the highest rates of Type 2 - 30% for both men and women. These are groups of people who are less likely to adopt Western diets and habits, as food is considered part of their culture. And, it looks as if there isn’t a correlation to BMI:

"Thirty per cent of Black women are obese, followed closely by white women at 26%, Coloured women at 25% and Indian women at 21%.

Twenty per cent of white men are obese with Coloured men at 10%, Black men at 9% and Indian men at 8.6%. "

So, Indian men and women are the least obese, but have the highest rates of diabetes. White men are the most obese, but have lower rates of diabetes than Indian and Coloured men.

It’s also interesting to note that the prevalence of diabetes is almost double in the urban black population than it is in the rural black population. Again, I doubt that this is due to differences in what is eaten, but rather it is due to the amount that is eaten. In South Africa, the rural areas are poor with higher rates of malnutrition and unemployment. Urban areas are richer with greater access to health care, but South Africa is still struggling to transform it’s Apartheid past and the vast majority of urban black people are poorer (and tend to have manual labour type jobs, largely due to the lack of education provided by the Apartheid government) than urban white people.

I think it would be useful to look at the relationship between poverty, class and obesity. I think it’s also important to look at whether diets do change that much when people move - from rural to urban areas and between countries. While I think there is definitely a relationship between obesity and diabetes, I don’t think it’s as simple as the media portrays it to be.

I agree with Melissa. They are finding more Diabetes because those countries, along with more modern restaurants, are getting modern medicine.

Everyone wants to blame the diabetic.

Then if insurance companies feel that way, they should mandate that companies not have cubicles. Get the logic??

Well, having been born in Korea and immigrating to the U.S. at an early age, I think for me, it is not the Western diet but rather, the combination of high carb Asian food and the sedentary lifestyle of the West (used to sit in my office all day with my secretary bringing me everything, I never walked around that much) and probably my genetic predisposition to T2. I do not think Asian food is healthy at all, white rice, noodles, fried, MSG, etc., with the exception of Japanese non-fried food. The thing is, more and more Asian urban population is enjoying the Western lifestyle of driving around and not walking or exercising as much, combined with their Asian diets. I’m enjoying Western food but cutting back on the saturated fat and carbs, it’s providing me with more meal options. I wonder if I would have fared better if I had also eaten Western food at home while I was growing up in the U.S.

Don’t forget to cut back on transfats, which are even worse than saturated fats. It’s hard to find information on how much transfats you are using, since if the US food manufacturers choose a serving size low enough to make the resulting amount of transfats per serving less than a certain amount (0.5g if I remember correctly), they can list the amount as zero.

Expect to find transfats in most types of hydrogenated vegetable oil, and expect oils that are similar except not hydrogenated not to last as long without going rancid.

Also expect polyunsaturated oils to accumulate transfats if heated very much, such as when used for deep-fried food.