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Last updated on April 19, 2014 at 18:42 EDT

Australia diet wizards top Da Vinci Code, Harry Potter

September 13, 2005

By Michelle Nichols

CANBERRA (Reuters) – Forget Atkins, Weightwatchers and
Jenny Craig — a new diet craze has emerged in Australia that
has toppled Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and J.K. Rowling’s
latest Harry Potter novel from the top of the bestseller list.

Even more surprisingly, this low-carbohydrate, high-protein
diet was created by government scientists.

Although best known internationally as a sports-mad country
full of fit, bronzed youth, Australia is in reality battling
the bulge as it challenges the United States for the title of
world’s fattest nation.

With fat Aussies estimated to be costing the country more
than A$1 billion ($770 million) a year and a plethora of diets
flooding the market, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial
Research Organization (CSIRO) decided to research a variety of
diets.

The result — the CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet book, which
has already sold 370,000 copies. Publishers are targeting sales
of one million in Australia, a country of just 20 million
people.

Publisher Penguin Books said it was already one of the best
sellers in Australian history and interest had already been
expressed by more than 10 countries including Britain, the
United States and China.

Author Manny Noakes said the diet had appealed to a much
wider audience than expected with people using it as a guide to
good nutrition, not just losing weight. The book advocates
regular exercise and allows people to calculate how to lose
weight according to their metabolic rate.

“The credibility of the CSIRO brand is also very important
in a marketplace that is very crowded with a lot of information
on weight management,” Noakes told Reuters via telephone from
her office in the South Australian capital, Adelaide.

“The timing was also probably pretty spot on, in that there
is a huge amount of community concern about obesity and the
third thing is that … people were looking for something new.”

She said the diet had found a niche as people lose interest
in the Atkins Diet made popular by Hollywood celebrities.

RED MEAT RISK?

Noakes said the CSIRO diet evolved from initial studies of
low-fat diets.

“Not surprising to us, but surprising to many others, it
didn’t really matter how much fat was in the diet. It was how
many calories that was important,” Noakes said.

“So we developed our own dietary approach that had a bit
more protein, a bit less carbohydrate and was nutritionally
complete.”

But while the diet has found plenty of fans, it has also
come under fire for recommending 200 grams of red meat be eaten
four times a week.

Dr John Tickell, who appeared on an Australian television
programme that helped local celebrities lose weight and get fit
and is also promoting his own diet book, has said the CSIRO
diet promotes dangerously high levels of red meat.

“The American Cancer Society and the European Cancer
Society …. (are) telling us there is a really obvious
relationship between increasing levels of red meat consumption
and bowel cancer,” Tickell told Australian television recently.
“I am just presenting the facts. I am concerned Aussies need to
be protected from themselves — we are a meat-eating nation.”

But Noakes is unconcerned and said the criticism of red
meat has been overstated.

“Red meat in Australia can be lean, it’s very nutritious
and it contributes a lot to a low-calorie diet. A low-calorie
diet that doesn’t have more protein foods, including red meat,
is not going to be a nutritionally adequate diet,” Noakes said.

COUCH POTATO SPORTS FANS

Despite Australia’s dominance in sports such as swimming
and cricket, many more Aussies are struggling to drag
themselves away from watching sport on television than actually
playing it.

More than 60 percent of adults, or 7 million people, are
overweight with 2 million of those obese, while nearly a third
of children are obese or overweight.

“It’s escalating quite a lot,” Noakes said. “We’re not as
big as Americans, but we are approaching it and if we don’t do
something the impact on our health system will be enormous.”

About 64.5 percent of adult Americans, or 119 million
people, are overweight or obese and the rate has been rising
steadily.

Although difficult to estimate, the Australian Institute of
Health and Welfare found that overweight and obese people cost
Australia more than A$1.2 billion in 2000/01.

“It’s going to cost more for medical care, and our health
system, which up until now has been one of the best in the
world, is really starting to show signs that it has been
subjected to this burden of obesity,” she said.

The CSIRO diet briefly topped sales on Britain’s online
bookshop, www.amazon.co.uk, following an article in a London
newspaper, and it is due to hit shelves there next week.

A British parliamentary committee found that two thirds of
the country’s population were overweight or obese, increasing
four fold in the past 25 years and now costing the country up
to 7.4 billion pounds a year.