Global food quality has not improved over the past 30 years •


The World Health Organization states that a healthy diet can reduce our risk of suffering from non-communicable diseases and conditions, such as obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer. A healthy diet should include at least five servings of vegetables or fruit a day, less saturated and trans fat, more unsaturated fat from plant sources, less processed meat and less salt. These guidelines are publicly available in the media and are part of the curriculum taught to most children in schools around the world. But are we listening?

A comprehensive study, and the first to include results for both children and adults, has now looked at more than 1,100 different surveys of food and nutrient consumption levels in 185 different countries between 1990 and 2018. The researchers, who were from Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, obtained the survey data from the Global Dietary Database, a large collaborative compilation of data on people’s eating behavior. They analyzed the quality of diets at global, national and regional levels to understand changes since 1990.

The researchers used a scale known as the Alternative Healthy Eating Index, a validated measure of diet quality that ranks people’s diets from 0 to 100. With this system, 0 represents an unhealthy diet that does not meet WHO dietary guidelines and is loaded with added sugar, salt and saturated fats, and is deficient in fruits and vegetables. To score 100 on this scale, a person’s diet must contain the recommended balance of fruits, vegetables, legumes/nuts, and whole grains, must contain a minimum of added sugar and salt, and use modest amounts fats, mainly unsaturated fats of vegetable origin. .

The results, published in the journal natural food, showed that the average regional diet quality ranged from a low of 30.3 in Latin America and the Caribbean to a high of 45.7 in South Asia. The average score of the 185 countries included in the study was 40.3, which represents a paltry increase of 1.5 since 1990. Only 10 countries, representing less than 1% of the world’s population, had scores above 50 The highest rated countries in the world were Vietnam. , Iran, Indonesia and India, and the lowest scores were Brazil, Mexico, the United States and Egypt.

“Consumption of legumes/nuts and non-starchy vegetables increased over time, but overall improvements in food quality were offset by increased consumption of unhealthy components such as red/processed meat, sugary drinks and sodium,” said the study’s lead author, Victoria. Miller, Visiting Scholar from McMaster University.

These results seem to highlight the fact that we don’t really listen to WHO guidelines. Although there has been slight improvement globally over the past 30 years, there are clearly significant challenges to implementing healthy eating behavior in most countries. There was evidence that nutritious food options had become more popular in the United States, Vietnam, China and Iran, but this trend was not seen in other countries, such as Tanzania, Nigeria and Japan.

Globally, diets have been affected by demographic factors, with adult women more likely to follow recommended diets than adult men, and older people eating healthier than young adults. In addition, young children had a better quality diet than adolescents.

“On average around the world, diet quality was also higher in young children, but then deteriorated as children got older,” Miller said. “This suggests that early childhood is an important time for intervention strategies aimed at encouraging the development of healthy food preferences.”

“Healthy diets were also influenced by socioeconomic factors, including education level and urbanity. Globally and in most regions, more educated adults and children with more educated parents generally had better overall dietary quality.

The researchers say that while the study has some limitations, the results offer key benchmarks for comparison as new information is added to the Global Dietary Database. Additionally, their results offer nutrition researchers, health agencies, and policy makers the opportunity to understand dietary intake trends and take appropriate actions to encourage healthy eating in the future, such as promoting meals composed of fresh products, seafood and vegetable oils.

“We found that too few healthy foods and too many unhealthy foods contributed to global challenges in achieving recommended dietary quality,” the study co-author said. Dariush Mozaffarian. “This suggests that policies that encourage and reward healthier foods, such as in health care, employer wellness programs, government nutrition programs, and agricultural policies, can have a substantial impact on improving of nutrition in the United States and around the world.”

The research team then plans to examine how different aspects of poor diets contribute to major diseases around the world, as well as model the effects of various policies and programs aimed at improving diets globally, regionally. and national.

This research was supported by grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the American Heart Association.

By Alison Bosman, Personal editor

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