Why Asia Has No Obesity Problem

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What America can learn from Asia where there is no obesity problem.

For the last three years I have gone to a different Asian country each year: Vietnam, Laos, and Malaysia.  Last night I woke up with a start as it occurred to me that obesity is not a problem in any of those countries!  Holy smokes! Entire countries without obesity problems.  I dont think I saw a single obese person in any of those countries, and I only saw a very rare person that could stand to lose 10 pounds. How is it that America with all its medical technology, gastric bypasses, and wealth gets fatter and fatter every year where less wealthy Asian countries have the obesity problem licked!  The answer is startlingly simple.

I was in Vietnam, Laos and Malaysia for two to three weeks in each country for a total of eight weeks.  In that eight weeks, I ate in about 160 food establishments.  In not one of those 160 restaurants was dessert offered or was it on the menu.  How un-American is that?  In America, if a meal doesnt end with a piece of Apple pie or chocolate cake its not complete.  In Asia, “dessert” is fruit!  Without even asking, they bring out a plate of fruit at the end of the meal and the table shares it, each spearing the fruit you want with your toothpick.  There are no fudge stores in the tourist attractions.  There is no cotton candy at the street markets.  There are no candy bars at gas stations or convenience markets.  They do have 7-11 stores in Malaysia but imagine this, they dont have candy nor do they have double big gulps!  I was incredulous.  What could 7-11 possibly sell if they didnt sell candy or sugar containing sodas?  In the USA, that occupies 50% of their floor space.

I think you see where I’m going here and the connection I’m going to draw.  Countries where sugar and simple carbs (empty calories) are commonly consumed like the USA have an obesity problem whereas countries where sugar, candy, and cake are not available are lean.  Is the solution to obesity that simple?  Well, its not that simple.  Why dont Asian countries like sweets but Americans crave them?  Is it cultural or genetic?  My guess is that if it were only cultural that we would have imported our bad sugar habits to Asia long ago like we exported our cigarette habit to them.  My guess is that there must be a genetic component to sugar craving.   Genentech, are you listening?  Come up with a product that eliminates the craving for sugar and you will make literally hundreds of millions of dollars a year on the first effective fat loss pill!

OK, there is a second component to why Asian countries have no obesity problem.  From what I saw, its secondary but its definitely worth noting: they are far more active than Americans.  They get a lot more exercise in daily life than the average American.  In America, we complain about our traffic problems but we are whiners.  We sit in our air conditioned cars while drinking our double frapachinos and dripping juice from our big macs on our big distended bellies while sitting in traffic and talking on our iPhones.  In big cities like Hanoi, the traffic is so bad as to be mind boggling.  Its literally a sea of mopeds.  Trying to drive a car is crazy, most people prefer to walk.  Cars are luxuries that few can afford, even mopeds are out of the reach of many – so they walk.  Walking and bicycles as transportation.  Most Americans do not associate walking and bikes as transportation, but rather consider them sport or exercise.  Its why their is so little respect or consideration for cyclists in America, they are “needlessly” taking up road space that rightfully belongs to that two ton car.

One last thing that should be mentioned, because of many Asians genetic intolerance to alcohol, they consume far less alcohol per capita than we do.  Alcohol is the worst of the simple carbs because it has nearly twice the calorie density of sugar.  There is a reason its called a “beer belly” in America!  Its not uncommon for an American to have a six pack on both Saturday and Sunday.  If someone who was maintaining their weight starts drinking two six packs every weekend they will gain 27 pounds of fat in a year!  Yes, alcohol is a big part of the American obesity problem too.  Asians dont consume sugars, either white refined sugar nor the sugars in alcohol.

So, why doesnt Asia have an obesity problem?  Its because 1) they dont eat sugars and 2) they exercise more.  Sound famailar?  Look at my page on how to lose weight.  I say its as simple as 1-2-3:

  1. eat a little bit less (by cutting out a few sweets for example)
  2. exercise a little bit more (by biking to work instead of driving for example)
  3. drinking more water