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Western Diet Increases Incidence of Metabolic Syndrome

En Español (Spanish Version)

Metabolic syndrome is a group of risk factors of metabolic origin that increase the risk of diabetes , coronary heart disease , stroke , and peripheral artery disease . These diseases are the leading killers in the US. While there are genetic factors that influence this syndrome, it is also largely affected by lifestyle choices.

In a study published in Circulation , researchers reviewed the effect of a western diet on the development of metabolic syndrome. The study was done by the Division of Epidemiology and Community Health at the University of Minnesota. They found that a western pattern diet, heavy in red meat, starches and sweets, promoted the syndrome. However, dairy consumption may actually provide some protection.

About the Study

The prospective cohort study followed 9,514 participants for nine years. The participants' ages ranged from 45-64 years. Their dietary intake was determined to be either western style or prudent style based on dietary journals. At the end of nine years 3,782 participants had developed metabolic syndrome. Reviewing the collected information and accounting for other factors such as physical activity, smoking, and calorie intake, the study found:

  • Consumption of a western diet was linked with higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome.
  • Consumption of meat, fried foods, and diet soda were individually linked to higher risk of metabolic syndrome.
  • Dairy consumption appeared to decrease the risk of metabolic syndrome.

This type of study can allow many confounding factors to enter, which means the results may be distorted. However, the study is an indicator that this topic is worthy of future research with more controlled studies.

How Does This Affect You?

Better dietary choices have proven to be effective against the diseases and conditions associated with metabolic syndrome. In general, diets low in saturated fats and high in fruits, vegetables, and grains are recommended for optimal health. Other lifestyle changes such as increased physical activity and not smoking have been shown to help with prevention as well.

Gradually add small changes to your lifestyle. Talk to a health professional such as a dietitian to develop balanced meal plans that reduce poor food choices and increase beneficial foods. See your doctor regularly to monitor your blood pressure, blood glucose, and cholesterol levels. If you have any health issues, get timely treatment.




  • Lutsey PL, Steffen LM, Stevens J. Dietary intake and the development of the metabolic syndrome: the atherosclerosis risk in communities study. Circulation . 2008 Feb 12;117(6):754-761.

Last reviewed August 2008 by Larissa J. Lucas, MD

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