Meat consumption makes a “significant contribution” to obesity, according to academics at the University of Adelaide, Australia, who have published a report examining the link between meat consumption and obesity in 170 countries.
The study looked at sugar and meat availability and found that the amount of both meat and sugar contributes 50% to the prevalence of global obesity.
Professor Maciej Henneberg, head of the Biological Anthropology and Comparative Anatomy Research Unit at the University of Adelaide, said the findings are “likely to be controversial”. This is because researchers believe it “may make sense” for official dietary guidelines to suggest reducing meat and sugar intake to stop people getting fatter.
“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,” said Henneberg.
The research, conducted by PhD student Wenpeng You, found that sugar and meat availability in a nation both explain 50% of obesity causes in society. After correcting differences for a nation’s GDP (gross domestic product), calorie consumption, levels of urbanisation and physical activity, the study found meat and sugar contributed another 13%.
You presented his research at the 18th International Conference on Nutrition and Food Sciences in Zurich, Switzerland.
Protein energy ‘surplus’
He said there is a “dogma” in societies that fats and carbohydrates have a major effect on international obesity rates.
Weight is a big international problem as worldwide obesity has doubled since 1980, according to the European Association for the Study of Obesity.
“Whether we like it or not, fats and carbohydrates in modern diets are supplying enough energy to meet our daily needs,” said You. "Because meat protein is digested later [in the digestion process] 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.”
In the advanced word, Australia has one of the highest rates of obesity, behind the likes of the US, Mexico and New Zealand. Growing affluence, portion sizes and cheap, convenient food has led to 28.3% of Australian adults being classed as obese, according to an OECD study from 2011.