Why is there an obesity epidemic among Thai monks?


A common misconception is that people in Asia are generally thinner compared to people in the Western countries. It might have been true once but times have changed.

A new New York Times article describes the obesity wave in Thailand : One in three Thai men and 40% of women are now obese. The country is now the second-heaviest in Asia, after Malaysia. Buddhist monks are at the forefront of the problem in Thailand where nearly half are obese.

How is that possible?

In Buddhist Thai tradition monks are given food by almsgivers, which secure them good karma in this life and next. Back in the day, monks were given whole foods but today they mostly get sugary drinks and generally storebought packaged items high in sugar.

In June, officials from Thailand’s Public Health Department urged laypeople to offer healthier alms to monks, who pour from temples in their saffron robes each morning to roam the streets collecting their meals in the Buddhist tradition.

As large parts of Asia is adapting to this junk food that constitutes the standard American diet the obesity wave keeps on getting worse. Hopefully, the monks and the Thai population can go back to their old eating habits and stop this negative trend.

Read the full article on obesity in Thailand here:

NYT: In Thailand, ‘Obesity in Our Monks Is a Ticking Time Bomb’


Dr. Ludwig in the NYT: The toll of America’s obesity

Reflections on humans held captive in a carbohydrate culture

Low carb


  1. Rory
    This is not great news for intermittent fasters! I think the Monks are only allowed eat until Midday.

    The article however does mention the consumption of sugary drinks throughout the day by some monks.

    Reply: #2
  2. russell
    "Not eating" does not equal "fasting".

    There's a HUGE difference between time-restricted eating (intermittent fasting) while eating a natural, whole-foods, low-carb diet and time-restricted eating while eating a diet that is mostly processed packaged, store bought sugary snacks and junk food.

    Basically, if you're eating nothing but junk and then during the time that you're "not eating" you are consuming sugary drinks and juice, then you are NOT FASTING. You're still dumping carbs and sugar into your body, still provoking the insulin response, and actually PREVENTING your body from going into a fasted state.

    If, on the other hand, you are eating a low-carb diet during a restricted time frame, and only consuming plain water, unsweetened tea or coffee (with no or very little cream), THAT'S when your body gets into the fasted state. Fasting is giving your body a break from processing carbs/protein/fat.

    That said, although the monks are not eating, they are NOT fasting.

    So if anything, this article promotes healthy whole-food eating and points the finger of blame at sugar and processed food, which is great news for LCHF, and for intermittent fasting. Hopefully the Thai people will heed the advice and start providing healthier options for their monks. If they do, then perhaps in a few years, we'll see an article about the complete reversal of obesity and health problems among Thai monks, thanks to a better diet!

  3. Carol
    Their poor teeth must be needing a lot of expensive dental work.
  4. Paul Cade
    I have lived in Thailand for the last 11 1/2 years and I have seen the population getting fatter and fatter, when I first came here in 2006 you would almost never see a fat Thai, I put it all down to the amount of western "food" that they now consume.

    When I first arrived about the only bread available in the local 7-11 was a choice of White or Wholemeal, now there are whole racks full of all sorts of bread and pastry products available and generally they have sickeningly sweet fillings in them and they wash it down with super sized soft drinks and slurpees.

    You only need to watch what an overweight Thai is buying in a 7-11 to see why they are getting fatter and fatter

  5. Josef
    I spent two weeks ordained as a monk in Thailand. Russel is right, monks are given lots of sugary drinks, such as sweetened soy milk and bottled tea, which is very sweet, too.
    They normally consume it late afternoon or evening (they are not allowed to eat any solid food between midday and next morning) so they are not actually "fasting".
    The monks' obesity and health problems obviously reflect the worsening dietary habits among the general Thai public.

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