Diets rich in meat are as much a factor in the prevalence of global obesity as sugar consumption, researchers at the University of Adelaide, Australia, reported in a study comparing meat consumption and obesity rates in 170 countries.
Wenpeng You, a PhD study who conducted the research with Professor Maciej Henneberg, recently presented the findings at the ICNFS 2016: 18th International Conference on Nutrition and Food Sciences in Zurich, Switzerland.
“Our findings are likely to be controversial because they suggest that meat contributes to obesity prevalence worldwide at the same extent as sugar,” Henneberg, head of the Biological Anthropology and Comparative Anatomy Research Unit at the university, said in a news release. “In the analysis of obesity prevalence … we have found that sugar availability in a nation explains 50% of obesity variation, while meat availability another 50%. After correcting for differences in nations’ wealth (Gross Domestic Product), calorie consumption, levels of urbanisation and of physical inactivity, which are all major contributors to obesity, sugar availability remained an important factor, contributing independently 13%, while meat contributed another 13% to obesity.
“While we believe it’s important that the public should be alert to the over-consumption of sugar and some fats in their diets, based on our findings we believe meat protein in the human diet is also making a significant contribution to obesity” he added.
The researchers wrote two studies on the subject: “Meat consumption providing a surplus energy in modern diet contributes to obesity prevalence: an ecological analysis,” published in BMC Nutrition, and “Meat in Modern Diet, Just as Bad as Sugar, Correlates with Worldwide Obesity: An Ecological Analysis,” published in the Journal of Nutrition & Food Sciences.
“There is a dogma that fats and carbohydrates, especially fats, are the major factors contributing to obesity,” added You. “Whether we like it or not, fats and carbohydrates in modern diets are supplying enough energy to meet our daily needs. Because meat protein is digested later than fats and carbohydrates, this makes the energy we receive from protein a surplus, which is then converted and stored as fat in the human body.”
Several other studies have also shown that meat consumption is related to obesity but, the researchers said, these reports often argued that it’s the fat in the meat that is contributing to obesity — not the meat itself. “On the contrary, we believe the protein in meat is directly contributing to obesity,” You said.
Concluded Professor Henneberg: “It would be irresponsible to interpret these findings as meaning that it’s okay to keep eating a diet high in fats and carbohydrates. Clearly, that is not okay … Nevertheless, it is important that we show the contribution meat protein is making to obesity so that we can better understand what is happening. In the modern world in which we live, in order to curb obesity it may make sense for dietary guidelines to advise eating less meat, as well as eating less sugar.”
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