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Emergence of Fad Diets and It’s Impact on Human Health and Well-being


Since 1980 the number of people suffering from obesity has doubled on a worldwide level. According to the latest figures published by World Health Organisation (WHO) (2015) almost 2 billion adults (39%) were overweight (Body Mass Index, BMI≥25kg/m2), with 600 million of these (13%) being obese (BMI≥30kg/m2). Both being overweight and obese is characterised by excess fat mass in the body (WHO, 2015). The main factors causing obesity involve excessive calorie intake, unhealthy eating habits like consuming processed food, sedentary lifestyle, but also medical conditions (hypothyroidism) or genetics such as the Prader-Willi syndrome (National Health Services [NHS], 2014a).

In reaction to a pervasive cult of slenderness, and in a society where thinness is equated with happiness, more and more people are jumping on the fad diet bandwagon. Researchers say at any given time, about one in three women is dieting (Fraser, 1998). Each day a frightening number of consumers call toll free numbers promoting weight loss products on television, send in mail orders for the “magic pills” glamorized in magazine advertisements or race to the grocery store to buy weight loss bars and shakes. With the increase in sedentary lifestyles and a rise in obesity, consumers have transformed dieting into a $40 billion a year industry (Barrett, 1999).

Research shows people generally turn to fad diets because they are unhappy with their bodies and would rather rely upon a “quick-fix” solution instead of a permanent plan of eating right and exercising. However, does a quick-fix solution necessarily work in the long run? The debate is ongoing.

Critics claim few fad diets if any at all promote exercise as part of a weight loss strategy. They say exercise is essential, yet often forgotten and instead replaced by obsessive calorie counting. The combination of exercise and proper nutrition has long been promoted as the key to healthy weight loss. Diet advocates disagree.

The following study is geared to assess the Emergence of fad diets and it’s impact on human health and well-being. The study aims to investigate the reasons students choose fad diets, reveal the results of such diets, compare the exercise habits of fad dieters and non-fad dieters and disclose statements from students who support or oppose the use of fad diets.

As a consequence, people are more susceptible to adopt various fad diets that claim to aid in losing weight very fast. As stated in CDC’s “Healthy Weight – It’s not a diet, It’s a lifestyle!” a fad diet is any weight loss plan that promises quick results and is usually a temporary nutritional change (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2014). These diets are considered unhealthy as they provide individuals with less calories and nutrients

Fad diets are known for centuries. Since ancient times, it was reported that Greeks and Romans had used them; however, at that time it was more about a healthy and active lifestyle. It was Victorians later who actually adopted fad diets. According to Foxcroft (2011) in her book „Calories & Corsets: A History of Dieting Over 2 000 Years‟, the word diet originates from the Greek word diaita, which represents a way of life including mental and physical health. It was in the 19th century that people started dieting for aesthetic purposes.

One of the most famous dieter of all time was Lord Byron, who in 1820 made the Vinegar and Water Diet very popular (Foxcroft, 2011). A century later, the Grapefruit Diet was created, where eating grapefruit with each meal was suggested as part of a low calorie diet plan. Interestingly, the Lucky Strike cigarette company launched the known Cigarette Diet based on the appetite suppressing effects of nicotine. Later in 1963, Jean Nidetch

founded Weight Watchers and in 1970 the „sedative‟ Sleeping Beauty Diet became famous (Rotchford, 2013). The last few decades, fad diets, such as The Atkins and Dukan Diets, became well known, based on high-protein and low-carbohydrate intake (Hughes, 2012). Other examples include the Zone Diet, suggesting a certain ratio of fat protein and carbohydrates, the South Beach Diet, which is a lighter version of Atkins Diet and the Master Cleanse, a diet based mostly in liquid food (Rotchford, 2013). Figure 1 demonstrates the most important diets throughout history.

On the other hand, fad diets do not come without disadvantages. Weight loss occurs too fast, most of the lost weight being water and muscle, not fat tissue. Rapid weight loss can further lead to various health risks such as constipation, low nutrients and energy intake and tiredness, all caused by eating less calories (HRF, 2014).

Fad diets, especially the low-carbohydrate/high-protein diets such as The Dukan diet, involve physiological aspects; they limit the amount of carbohydrate and sugar intake and at the same time promote the consumption of animal protein. As a result, there is a shift from using glucose to using fatty acids and ketones as the main fuel sources; therefore, the glycogen availability increases (Westman et al., 2007). Ketosis could then result in a decrease of appetite but also cause hyperuricemia since ketones compete with urine acid for renal tubular excretion (Denke, 2001). Despite the reputation of the ketogenic diets there is little scientific support of their long-term side effects and sustainability. In order to suggest the adaptation of such diets as a „life nutritional philosophy‟, possible adverse effects on health and disease prevention need to be studied.

Studies have shown that high-fat/high-protein diets like The Atkins diet also result in higher risk of heart disease (WHO/Food & Agriculture Organisation Expert Consultation, 2013), colon cancer (Giovannucci et al., 1994), bad breath (Mahon & Escott-Stump, 1996) and sleeping disorders (Fitness, 2014). Anderson, Konz, and Jenkins (2000) showed that the Atkins diet increase the cholesterol levels in the serum, increasing the risk of atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease by greater than 50% if used in long term. Various adverse effects of following a very-low-carbohydrate short-term diet have previously been reported including constipation due to low fibre intake (68% of participants), bad breath (63%), headache (51%), hair loss (10%) and increased menstrual bleeding (3%) (Westman, Yancy, Edman, Tomlin, & Perkins, 2002).

High-protein diets have been linked with a greater production of nitrogen waste products, which add a pressure on the kidneys, especially in dehydration state (Denke, 2001). Another study has shown that after six weeks of such a diet there is an increased acid load to the kidney maximising the possibility of stone formation and a decrease of calcium balance leading to bone loss and osteoporosis (Reddy, Wang, Sakhaee, Brinkley, & Pack, 2002). Consuming two or three times more protein than the recommended daily allowance has been associated with loss of calcium through the urinary tract, which could predispose to bone loss long-term (Eisenstein, Roberts, Dallal, & Saltzman, 2002). Although significant reduction in insulin responses has been observed after a low-carbohydrate diet (Westman et al., 2007), it is believed that insulin sensitivity and resistance may be negatively influenced in the long-term (Riccardi, Giacco & Rivellese, 2004; Shulman, 2000). Moreover, following such a diet for several months can cause an increase in plasma homocysteine (Clifton, Noakes, Foster, & Keogh, 2004), the effect of which has been linked with higher cardiovascular risk (Refsum, Ueland, Nygard, & Vollset, 1998).

On the other hand, low-protein/low-fat diets might increase the risk of inadequate intake of minerals such as calcium and zinc as well as high-quality protein. For example when following the Pritikin diet the recommended fat intake should be less than 10% of the daily energy intake which is close to the lowest limit of the daily requirement for essential fatty acids (Pritikin, 1981). Other nutritional deficiencies, such as iron deficiency, can be associated with growth decrease and anaemia in adolescents (Dietz & Hartung, 1985). Additionally, adopting unbalanced eating habits has been connected with menstrual irregularity or amenorrhea (Kreipe, Strauss, Hodgman, & Ryan, 1989). Table 5 summarises the most popular fad diets, their main components and their physiological implications, the main of which are explained below.


The main objective of the study is to examine the Emergence of fad diets and it’s impact on human health and well-being. Specifically, the study aims to

  1. Examine the prevalence of fad diet among college students
  2. Determine the knowledge of fad dieting among college students
  3. Examine the determinant of fad dieting among college students
  4. Evaluate the heath implications of fad diet

Today’s fast-paced, technologically-driven society makes it easier for people to be “on the run” and often ignore a healthy eating and exercise regimen. The need to stay fit and maintain a desirable body image drives many consumers to purchase weight loss products or adhere to an unbalanced diet, hindering their intake of important nutrients.           In a college atmosphere, students also often find themselves in a stressful, fast-paced environment (Burgess, Powers and Robbins, 1999). Bombarded with deadlines and meetings, students attempt to strike a balance between social and educational worlds. Body image plays a major role in such a quest for balance and happiness. Most students want to look good and feel accepted, but also be successful. For “on the go” students, finding time for fitness may not be as easy as popping a weight loss pill or drinking a diet shake (Burgess, Powers and Robbins, 1999).

The college age serves as an important time in which behaviors learned may become habits for life (Burgess, Powers and Robbins, 1999). Poor nutrition and exercise habits during teenage and college years can shape a future of disease or illness for the adult. According to the American Dietetic Association, major health organizations declare that fad diets do not encourage long-term eating patterns and instead promote poor nutrition. Therefore, the following study was one method of determining the emergence of fad diets and it’s impact on human health and well-being, and if students are indeed putting themselves at risk for current and future health problems.



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