I came across this Bloomberg article a few days ago reporting that there is a health crisis in China with 114 million adults are diabetic. I then noticed that the same story was being reported by the BBC a couple of days later.
China has the highest number of diabetics in the world. Not surprising really, given that they also have the highest population in the world. But there is more to it than that though. Nearly 12% of the adult population has diabetes. 40% of 18 to 29 year olds are pre-diabetic and obesity levels are soaring but obesity in China is at a lower rate than in the USA.
Why might this be?
The is evidence for at least 4000 years of rice cultivation in China and rice has a very low prolamine content in comparison to wheat which makes it a fairly innocuous grain to eat. It is almost certainly safe to assume that the Chinese are pretty well adapted to a diet of rice and initially, I thought, there’s the answer! It’s wheat.
Well, no it isn’t.
Wheat has also been eaten in China for at least the same amount of time. Some regions have a diet which is predominantly wheat based while others are predominantly rice based.
The China Study is a book published in 2005 which argues that a vegetarian or vegan diet is healthier than a meat based diet evidenced by an examination of Chinese diets studied between 1973 and 75 in 65 Chinese counties. Obesity was not a problem at this time although the figures presented in the study have since been shown to indicate a positive correlation between wheat eating and obesity.
In the 1970’s China started to open up to Western influences before slamming the brakes on in 1989 with the Tiananam Square massacre of students who wanted greater rights and freedoms. Since then China has opened up to the West and has become the second largest economy in the World.
This articles gives some clues and it seems to be more about fast food culture and Western style eating than about wheat per se.