How dramatic is the shift in health when cultures switch to a Westernized Diet – The Tokelau

There was a very interesting long term study done from the 1960s until the late 80s on a population of people living on a small island off of New Zealand.

They were called the Tokelau.

Before they were introduced to any westernized foods they existed on mainly coconut, fish, some small birds, and a bit of starchy fruit similar to plantain. 60% of their diet was Coconut which of course is nearly 90% saturated fat.

Their populations are notable for their low levels of blood pressure, high rates of infectious disease (no antibiotics or sanitation), and low rates of coronary heart disease, obesity and diabetes. At the other end of the spectrum are those Polynesian societies, such as the Hawaiians and the Maori of New Zealand, who were submerged by ‘Western’ settlers and the dominating cultures they brought with them. These populations have inevitably acquired the diseases of the ‘West’, sometimes to an exaggerated degree.

There were a group that migrated to New Zealand and a group that remained. The heath changes in both groups were interesting to say the least.

The group that remained on the island maintained more of a traditional diet but still had access to western foods as they had frequent shipments of sugar, flour, cigarettes and for some time rice. The group that migrated had constant access.

Cardiovascular health:

They used ECG readings to measure the heart rates of the different groups to determine the percent chance that they have had prior cardiac events.

In 1982 native Tokelau were averaged to have had 0.0% chance of prior cardiac events

In 80-81 Native New Zealanders were averaged to have had 1.0% chance

For comparison, in Tecumseh USA in 1965 the average chance was 3.5%



This one is easy to show without saying much. The rates of both the groups rose but the difference between the group that stayed, only getting 5 annual shipments of western food, compared to those that migrated to NZ was dramatically different.



Another easy one. Between 1968 and 1982, Tokelauans in nearly all age groups gained weight, roughly 11 pounds on average. They also became slightly taller, but not enough to offset the gain in weight. By 1980-82, migrants to New Zealand had become especially heavy, with all age groups weighing more than non-migrants by about 11 lb on average, and 22 lb more than Tokelauans did in 1968.


Dental Health

Dental decay increased eight-fold in adolescents and more than four-fold in adults. I don’t know what their dental health was like before 1963, but I can only guess it was better than when this study was conducted, due to the fact that the Tokelauan diet was already partially modernized in 1963. The incidence of dental cavities among the isolated groups living on native foods was 0.6 per cent, while for those around the port living in part on trade foods, it is 33.4 per cent. The effect of the imported food was clearly to be seen on the teeth of the people who were in the growth stage at that time [i.e., they developed crooked teeth].


What happens when the Tokelauans suddenly stop the western Diet?

Interestingly when the ship that was bringing the western food supplies to the island was damaged and stop shipments for 5 months the situation changed pretty quickly. There was no sugar, flour, tobacco and starch foods consumed and the island hospitals reported a shortage of business during the shortage. It was reported that the Tokelauans had been very healthy during that time and had returned to the pre-European diet of coconuts and fish. Many people lost weight and felt very much better including some of the diabetics.

Very interesting. Too bad they didn’t learn from this and too bad we had not learned from this. The data is right in front of our eyes and so many will dismiss it. Does this not sound pretty much like an open and shut case? If this was a trail to determine who is the culprit of all of these diseases does it not look pretty damning for the western diet and pretty liberating for Saturated fat and fat in general?

When will the world see the western diet for what it is? Hopefully soon.

Keto ON!

Coach Jack

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