The trend towards fast food in emerging Asian markets is putting entire populations at risk. This trend is occurring in nations that never used to worry about diet-related disease, so experts around the world are sounding the alarm. Rich in meat—and laden with saturated fat, cholesterol, and artificial chemicals—the greasy and salty food typical of fast foods causes people to get fat and sick.

One expert concerned about the increasing adoption of western, fast-food diets, is John A. McDougall MD, medical director of the McDougall medical program in Santa Rosa, California. When he was a young doctor on a plantation in Hawaii, he observed that older-generation Filipinos who ate a diet similar to the Asian diet never got sick. But their children who adopted American eating habits eventually got fat and got all the diseases we see today.

"When people from Asia move to the United States and adopt a typical American diet," he said, "they get fat or obese and start getting the diseases that obese Americans get."

So why is it that when people from other countries move to America, or when American influence overtakes traditional cultures, the result is a decline in national health? The answer is food. Americans treat food as a source of immediate gratification. They want it tasty and cheap, and they want it now. To meet this demand, American manufacturers pump their food full of sugar, salt, hydrogenated oils, saturated fats, preservatives, dyes, artificial flavors, and a host of bizarre, unpronounceable chemicals that, if you saw it in its pre-processed state, you would never consider eating it. But many consumers not only want fast food, they crave it.

It's the highly successful result of a myth that marketing executives have promoted in America for the last 60 years: that fast food creates happiness, brings people together, saves time and saves money.

It’s true that it takes only a few minutes to get fast food. You might even think you saved a few bucks in the bargain. But if you make fast food part of your regular diet, you get something else instead. What you don’t see on your receipt are the thousands of dollars in health care costs that you could incur over a lifetime should you develop a diet-related disease.

For example, consider the American experience. It's not a coincidence that along with increased sales of fast food over the past few decades, we also see a rise in diet-related disease. It’s estimated that one out of every two American men and one out of every three American women will develop some form of cancer in their lifetime. More than one third of the American population is obese, including one fifth of children under 11 years old. Rates of diabetes are climbing and are expected to hit 15% of the overall population by the year 2015. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Risk factors for heart disease have been identified in children as young as five.

American society is paying the price as a nation. Just five diet-related chronic diseases cost the U.S. economy a staggering $1.2 trillion each year! This is an estimate of direct medical costs and the indirect impact of productivity losses due to illness and premature death associated with cardiovascular disease and stroke, obesity, osteoarthritis, cancer, and diabetes.

After enduring the fast food experiment for 60 years, American society is just beginning to wise up. Faced with an overwhelming health care crisis, government, schools and private institutions are providing nutritional education. Major media figures, celebrities and Michelle Obama, the First Lady herself, are publicly urging young people to reduce the amount of junk food and animal protein in their diet and to eat more whole, unprocessed plant foods.

Following the spread of fast food, the incidence of obesity and heart disease are already on the rise in many Asian countries. But this trend can be reversed. The easiest path to good health is the traditional diet based on whole, plant-based foods. Tune in next time as we explore the science behind traditional Asian diets, and why people who embrace these diets have the lowest rates of heart disease in the world.

Meanwhile, the message is clear. Eat healthy now, or pay later!