Today obesity is a major contributor to many chronic diseases (World Health Organisation n.d.). Cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes are all conditions globally influenced by obesity (World Health Organisation n.d.). This paper examines the effect of macronutrient ratios across two different countries. Macronutrients consist of carbohydrates, proteins, fats and alcohol; these are the components that make dietary energy (Council 2003). To better understand macronutrient’s effect on obesity two countries with highly varying obesity percentages, diets and cultures will be examined; Australia and Japan.
Obesity occurs when an individual has accumulated an excessive amount of fat that puts their health at risks (World Health Organisation n.d.). The rough measure for obesity is a Body Mass Index (BMI) that exceeds 30 (World Health Organisation n.d.). BMI is calculated using an individual’s height and weight but can be inaccurate as it doesn’t measure the same percentage of body fat for each individual (World Health Organisation n.d.).
With a population of approximately 126.7 million (Live Population 2017), only 3.1% of Japan is classified as obese (World Health Organisation n.d.). The Japanese diet has attracted attention for some time, due to the longevity of the population (Nishimura et al 2015). Japan has several dietary behaviours that are not often observed in Western populations (Nishimura et al 2015). These behaviours include a higher consumption of rice, green tea, soy products and seafood; and a decreased intake of carbonated beverages and animal fats (Nishimura et al 2015). Japan has its own Food Guide ‘Spinning TOP’, that provides recommendations on food groups and quantities that consider these common dietary behaviours, making them more simple for the Japanese population to adopt (Nishimura et al 2015).
The average macro-nutrient intake percentages in adults across Japan are as followed. 15.95% protein, 24.9% fats and 54.25% carbohydrates (Zhou et al 2003). With an average energy intake of 2038 calories (Zhou et al 2003). The percentages do not total 100 as the macronutrient percentage for alcohol has not been included in this paper.
When considering optimum nutritional intake and modification in Japan it has the potential to differ from that in Western populations (Okubo et al 2015). Macronutrient intake is important across Japan to prevent chronic disease and maintain health (Zhou et al 2003). Whether macronutrients have an influence on Japan’s smaller percentage of obesity remains uncertain.
Australia has a much smaller population than Japan; with only approximately 24million people residing on the continent (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016). From this 24 million Australians 16.4% are considered obese (World Health Organisation n.d.).
In 1998 the Commonwealth Department of Health and Family Services released ‘The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating’ (Smith et al 1998). The Australian government provided nutritional knowledge that could be implemented in the contemporary Australian diet (Smith et al 1998). This included the health model the ‘Five Food Groups’ developed to reduce chronic diseases related to poor nutrition intake (Smith et al 1998). Despite 75 years of nutritional advice (Council 2003), Australian’s rarely focus their dietary consumption around the government’s recommendations (Smith et al 1998).
The following macro-nutrient averages are taken from Australians across both genders. 17.1% protein, 32.95% fats and 49.75% carbohydrates (Catherine et al 2011). The average energy expenditure for an Australian was approximately 2343.5 calories (Catherine et al 2011).
Various studies have stated that macro-nutrient composition within a diet may be an important factor in the development of body fat (Catherine et al 2011). When an individual’s body fat becomes too great they are classified as obese, which puts them at much greater risk of serious health complication (World Health Organisation n.d.).
With only 3.1% of the population of Japan classified as obese compared to Australia’s 16.4% (World Health Organisation n.d.), alongside Japan’s longevity the country’s health is in a much better state (Nishimura et al 2015).
The question is what effect does macro-nutrient intake have on these obesity percentages? Japan’s average protein intake is 1.15% less than Australia’s (Zhou et al 2003) (Catherine et al 2011). The average fat intake is 8.05% lower in Japan than Australia (Zhou et al 2003) (Catherine et al 2011). Finally, Japan has a 4.55 % higher carbohydrate intake than the Australian average (Zhou et al 2003) (Catherine et al 2011). Japan also has a much lower daily energy consumption, with an intake of 305.5 calories less than Australia’s (Zhou et al 2003) (Catherine et al 2011).
The key macro-nutrient difference between the two countries is a higher fat intake within Australia (Catherine et al 2011). Studies have shown that those classified as obese commonly ate fewer carbohydrates than their leaner counterparts (Catherine et al 2011). There is also scientific evidence that supports high fat intake’s involvement in increased risk of chronic diseases (Kettings et al 2009). Fat is also more likely to be stored in the body, unlike carbohydrates and proteins which are only stored short term (Council 2003). Despite the extensive research that supports the benefits of decreased fat intake, low carbohydrate diets are still commonly practised in Australian to induce rapid weight loss (Gibson et al 2016). These diets that starve the body of both carbohydrates and calories attempt to induce a state called Ketosis (Gibson et al 2016). This state is thought to be a key method in reducing hunger even during an extensive energy restriction (Gibson et al 2016). The western obsession with low carbohydrate diets, and instant weight loss should also be considered an influence on Australia’s obesity percentage.
Macronutrients, along with micronutrients are the traditional method for classifying the nutritional value of food (Council 2003). Today the non-nutrient specific value of food continues to expand; as other factors of food composition gain recognition for their influence in ageing and prevention of chronic disease (Council 2003).
Despite research explaining the benefit of higher carbohydrate diets, similarly, there is a bounty of research suggesting that a greater consumption of sugars (a form of carbohydrate) has an impact on increasing obesity rates (Council 2003).
The socioeconomic difference between countries also plays a part in obesity percentages. Countries with a higher percentage of people in a better socioeconomic position will have greater ability to purchase consume nutrient-rich foods (Fukuda, Hiyoshi 2012).
Increased consumption of high-fat foods is only a small factor in the rise of obesity (World Health Organisation n.d.). Primarily weight gain is caused by an imbalance between energy consumption and expenditure (World Health Organisation n.d.) This imbalance has occurred globally due to an increase in energy dense foods and decreases in physical activity (World Health Organisation n.d.).
Research suggests that Japan’s lower Fat intake may be the key macro-nutrient variation that results in a far smaller obesity percentage than Australia.
Though there are too many other variables across the two cultures to consider this macro-nutrient differentiation to be the sole factor in the variance of obesity rates. Culturally influenced food choices, socioeconomic positions, physical activity and general calorie consumption all play a major part in obesity.
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