Battling the Bulge: Asia's Mounting Health Crisis Stems as Much from Local Delicacies as from McDonald's

Article excerpt

Byline: Alexandra A. Seno

Dr. Tommaso Cavalli-Sforza would like diners in Asia to hold the salt. And some of the meat. And, while they're at it, the fat and sugar, too. "If people here continue to eat the way they do, the consequences will be serious," says the World Health Organization's regional adviser for nutrition. "Many will end up paralyzed from a stroke, on dialysis because of kidney failure or blind as a result of diabetes complications."

It doesn't make for pleasant dinner conversation, but Asia is facing an epidemic of diet-induced diseases. Instances of heart disease and hypertension have spiked as serving sizes get bigger and lifestyles become more sedentary. Today, for example, the region has more than 60 million diabetes sufferers; that number is expected to top 130 million by 2025. Everyone knows Western fast food is partially responsible. But there's a growing realization that Asia's battle against the bulge may be as much a domestic problem as an imported one. "We've discovered that the largest percentage of saturated fat in our diet is coming from local ethnic food," says Dr. Annie Ling of the Singapore Health Board.

Better incomes are translating into wider waistlines. Fried noodles, for example, once enjoyed on special occasions, are now a daily staple in Singapore. In the Philippines, lechon--pig roasted on a spit--was usually reserved for weddings and fiestas. …