Monday, January 29, 2007

Ill health: America's new cultural legacy

Fascinating article from Bloomberg that highlights the toll America's cultural hegemony has taken on the rest of the world. It seems that in some parts of the world, diabetes and heart disease are now among our leading exports.

From, "Fries, GIs, Beef Bring Diabetes to Japan's Isle of Centenarians":

Jan. 30 (Bloomberg) -- Tomomi Inose is overweight and diabetic. Her poor health is a result of six decades of U.S. influence on Okinawa. Until a generation ago, residents of Japan's southern island were the world's longest-lived.

Growing up in postwar Okinawa alongside the U.S. military's largest overseas bases, Inose developed a bigger appetite for American-style barbecue, hamburgers and sodas than the fish and vegetables that sustained prior generations.

``My body instinctively craves for succulent meat,'' Inose, 46, said during a visit to the hospital where her blood-sugar level is tested monthly to monitor the type-2 diabetes that's impaired her vision and increases her risk of heart disease.

The island that once boasted more centenarians than anywhere else in the world now has the highest prevalence of obesity in Japan, and life expectancy is falling rapidly. The government is concerned the deteriorating health of Okinawans may be a prelude to a nationwide crisis.

The article goes on to describe the change in diet and lifestyle that has taken place over the years in Okinawa. Since the end of World War II, many of the younger generations of Okinawans have abandoned the traditional diet and lifestyle habits of their elders, with perilous results. Those who kept to the traditional diet are healthier than their peers.

With an average life expectancy of 86 for women and 78 for men, Okinawa's elders have one-fifth the heart disease, a quarter of breast and prostate cancer and one-third the dementia of Americans of the same age group, according to the Okinawa Centenarian Study.

And another important lesson: just because you have the genes and the background, don't expect to live as long as your ancestors without the proper diet, lifestyle habits and exercise.