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"Western" Diet Linked to Diabetes in Women, Simmons-led Study Finds

Diets High in Red and Processed Meats Once Again Linked to Health Ailments

BOSTON (November 8, 2004) — The "Western" diet - one especially high in red and processed meats, and refined grain - once again appears to be a culprit in women's health - this time linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes in women, according to a new report in the November issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.

Type 2 diabetes, which is increasing rapidly in the United States, is the most common form of diabetes in adults and usually manifests itself in adulthood.

The report's lead author, Nutrition Professor Teresa Fung of the Simmons College School of Health Sciences, noted that the "Western" eating pattern high in red and processed meats, also has been linked in recent past studies to an increased risk of stroke, colon cancer, and heart disease.

With this new analysis she says, "now we can add diabetes to the list. I think this is another reason to shift away from that type of diet."

The study notes that the United States is experiencing an "alarming increase" in the incidence of type 2 diabetes" and that "the resulting morbidity, economic costs, reduced quality of life, and risk for complications make preventive strategies indispensable."

The new study found that the "Western diet" high in red and processed meats and refined grains, as opposed to a diet low in those foodstuffs, is associated with an elevated risk of type 2 diabetes in women.

"Therefore," the study concluded, "it may be prudent to reduce consumption of these foods items to decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes."

Fung says that for a long time, it was uncertain whether diet directly affects the risk of type 2 diabetes. While it is well known that obesity increases the risk, and diet is related to obesity, little data was available to see if diet has any influence beyond its effect on weight. Fung's study broke away from the traditional way of looking at foods one at a time to see if they were related to diabetes risk, and instead looked at an individual's entire dietary pattern.

The study population was of women in the Nurses' Health Study, a research study begun in 1976 when nearly 122,000 female nurses ages 30-55 living in the US responded to questionnaires about medical, lifestyle, and other health related information. Questions have since been sent biannually to update and analyze the information. The diabetes study began in 1984.

Study authors included Fung, ScD; Matthias Schulze, Dr.Ph; JoAnne E. Manson, MD, DrPh; Walter C. Willett, MD, DrPh; and Frank B. Hu, MD, PhD. Affiliated, Boston-based institutions are the Simmons College Department of Nutrition, the Harvard School of Public Health, Brigham and Women's Hospital; and Harvard Medical School.

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