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2002 Releases

Study Links Western Dietary Pattern with a Greater Risk for Type 2 Diabetes in Men

For immediate release:  February 04, 2002

Boston, MA – Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health have linked a diet high in consumption of red meat, processed meat, high-fat dairy products and refined grains, combined with obesity and inactivity with a high risk for type 2 diabetes in men. Approximately 16 million Americans have type 2 diabetes, which can cause blindness, kidney failure and heart disease. The study results appear in the February 5 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, (www.annals.org ).

The dietary patterns of more than 42,000 men between the ages of 40 and 75 were tracked for 12 years via food frequency questionnaires. Two types of diet patterns emerged: the “prudent” diet, characterized as a diet higher in consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish and poultry and the “western” diet, typified by higher consumption of red meat, processed red meat, high-fat dairy products, French fries and desserts.

Those who followed the western diet were younger, heavier, less physically active, more likely to smoke cigarettes and had a substantially increased risk for type 2 diabetes. The risk for type 2 diabetes was shown to be particularly high for men who followed the western dietary pattern in combination with obesity and physical inactivity.

Participants in the study were chosen from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study (www.hsph.harvard.edu/hpfs ). The researchers analyzed the dietary habits of the men via a 131-item food frequency questionnaire conducted every four years. The men were asked to indicate how often and in what amount they consumed specified foods. At the start of the study the men had to be free of diabetes, cancer or cardiovascular disease. During the 12 years of the study, 1,321 new cases of type 2 diabetes were diagnosed. Type 2 diabetes usually occurs after age 40. People with this type of diabetes do not produce adequate amounts of insulin for the needs of the body and/or cannot use insulin effectively.

Frank Hu , MD, PhD, co-author and an assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health said, “The implications of the study are straightforward. To substantially decrease the chances of getting type 2 diabetes and developing potentially serious complications like blindness, kidney failure and heart disease, men should change their eating pattern and increase their intake of whole grains, fruits, vegetables and fish. They should also get plenty of exercise and avoid weight gain.”

The research was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health and by a Research Award from the American Diabetes Association.

For further information, please contact:

Robin Herman
Office of Communications
Harvard School of Public Health
677 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
Phone: 617-432-4752
Email: rherman@hsph.harvard.edu