Rice and Obesity

I’m pretty sure you’re probably wondering why there’s an article up on rice and obesity. I mean why will someone sit and write something so obvious?

Well, I totally understand your reservations. I would have reacted the same way just that what you think you know is more of a misconception. Rice is one of the most eaten food in Nigeria, if not the highest. Research has found that there is a correlation between rice and obesity. 

Obesity is a medical condition that occurs when a person carries excess weight or body fat that might affect their health. A doctor will usually suggest that a person has obesity if they have a high body mass index. 

Body mass index is a tool that doctors use to assess if a person is at an appropriate weight for their age, sex, and height. The measurement combines height and weight. 

If a person does have obesity and excess weight, this can increase their risk of developing a number of health conditions, including metabolic syndrome, arthritis and some types of cancer 

Causes of Obesity 

Obesity is caused by several factors:

1. Consuming Too Many Calories

A person has a lower risk of obesity if their diet consists mainly of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. 

When a person consumes more calories than they use as energy, their body will store the extra calories as fat. This can lead to excess weight and obesity. 

Also, some types of foods are more likely to lead to weight gain, especially those that are high in fats and sugars. 

Foods that tend to increase the risk of weight gain include: 

  • fast foods 
  • fried foods, such as french fries 
  • fatty and processed meats 
  • many dairy products 
  • foods with added sugar, such as baked goods, ready-made breakfast cereals, and cookies 
  • foods containing hidden sugars, such as ketchup and many other canned and packaged food items 
  • sweetened juices, sodas, and alcoholic drinks 
  • processed, high-carb foods, such as bread and bagels 

Some processed food products contain high-fructose corn syrup as a sweetener, including savory items, such as ketchup. 

Eating too much of these foods and doing too little exercise can result in weight gain and obesity.  

2. Leading a Sedentary Lifestyle  

Many people lead a much more sedentary lifestyle than their parents and grandparents did. 

Examples of sedentary habits include: 

  • working in an office rather than doing manual labor 
  • playing games on a computer instead of doing physical activities outside 
  • going to places by car instead of walking or cycling 

The less a person moves around, the fewer calories they burn. 

Also, physical activity affects how a person’s hormones work, and hormones have an impact on how the body processes food. 

Several studies have shown that physical activity can help to keep insulin levels stable and that unstable insulin levels may lead to weight gain. 

3.  Obesity Gene 

A faulty gene called the fat-mass and obesity-associated gene (FTO) is responsible for some cases of obesity. 

From the causes of obesity listed above, rice was not mentioned. However, researchers have found that there is a correlation between rice and obesity. Contrary to popular belief, rice actually helps with the case of obesity.

Take a moment to imagine a Nigeria without rice… Yes o! Forget about your favorite Party Jollof and every other orishirishi style of rice preparation. How would you cope? What would you replace rice with? Growing up, eating rice was something we looked forward to. I vividly remember what days we had rice.

Nigerians are rice people. Our love for rice is beyond comprehension. I can’t even give any concrete reason as to why we love rice but we love it.  

Over the years, especially with the whole fitness and well-being movement, came the issue of calories and foods that are high in calories. Rice has been mentioned as a food that is really high in calories. Especially white rice has been said to be a bad choice of food when pursuing fitness. As a result of this, ordinarily one would think that rice would be a leading cause of obesity mostly because of the chemical properties that make it up.  

To my greatest surprise, research has shown that it is in fact false and we should do away with that belief. Rice is generally thought to be high in calories hence increasing the risk of obesity. Well, research has shown that that myth is completely wrong. 

To investigate this, scientists took data from 136 countries. They found that countries where people ate an average of at least 150 grams (g) of rice per day had significantly lower rates of obesity than countries where people ate less than the global average amount of rice, around 14g per day. 

The researchers attempted to take into account as many confounding variables as they could, including average education level, smoking rates, total calories consumed, money spent on healthcare, and gross domestic product per capita. 

All these variables were significantly lower in the countries whose residents ate the most rice; however, even accounting for this in their analysis, the researchers found that the positive influence of rice over obesity persisted. 

When considering exactly why rice might influence obesity rates, Prof. Imai says: “Eating rice seems to protect against weight gain. It’s possible that the fiber, the nutrients, and plant compounds found in whole grains may increase feelings of fullness and prevent overeating.” 

He also adds, “Rice is also low in fat and has a relatively low postprandial blood glucose level, which suppresses insulin secretion.” 


The prevalence of obesity ranges from 8.1 – 22.2% which is relatively low in comparison to other countries like America. So, can we then infer that rice being a main food in the country has some sort of relationship with obesity control? Following research, rice should actually be your best friend. It is really nutritious but we didn’t know to what extent. 

The researchers estimate that even a modest increase in average rice consumption (of 50g/day/per person—equivalent to a quarter of a cup), could reduce the worldwide prevalence of obesity by 1% (i.e., from 650 million adults aged 18 years or older to 643.5 million). 

This is actually the best news for me. I hear you asking so should I eat more rice? It depends on the quantity you’re already eating daily or anytime you eat. Remember, moderation is key in life. 

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