On a scale of 0 to 100 of how well people adhere to recommended diets, with 0 representing a poor diet (think excessive consumption of sugar and processed meat), and 100 representing the recommended balance of fruits, vegetables, legumes/nuts, and whole grains, most countries would score close to 40.3. Globally, this represents a small, but meaningful, 1.5 point gain between 1990 and 2018, researchers from Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy report today in the journal nature foods.
The study, which is one of the most comprehensive estimates to date of global nutritional quality-; and the first in terms of including results among children as well as adults-; It highlights challenges around the world to encourage healthy eating. Although global gains were modest, there was marked variation by country, with nutritious options becoming more popular in the United States, Vietnam, China and Iran, and less so in Tanzania, Nigeria and Japan.
“The intake of legumes/nuts and non-starchy vegetables has increased over time, but the overall improvement in diet quality has been offset by increased intake of unhealthy ingredients such as red/processed meat and sugar- and sodium-sweetened beverages,” says lead author Victoria Miller. , a visiting scientist from McMaster University in Canada who began this study as a postdoctoral researcher with Dariush Mozaffarian, Dean of Policy and Jan Mayer Professor of Nutrition at the Friedman School, and senior author on the paper.
Food quality in detail
Poor diet is a major cause of disease, responsible for 26% of preventable deaths worldwide. While there is an urgent need for interventions and policies to support healthy eating, little is known about differences in diet quality by demographics such as age, gender, education, or proximity to urban areas-; Useful information for targeting public health campaigns.
Miller and colleagues addressed this gap by measuring global, regional, and national eating patterns among adults and children in 185 countries based on data from more than 1,100 surveys from the Global Food Database, a large, collaborative set of data on levels of food and nutrient consumption worldwide. . The researchers’ primary score was a scale from 0 to 100 known as the Alternative Healthy Eating Index, an approved measure of diet quality.
Regionally, averages ranged from 30.3 in Latin America and the Caribbean to 45.7 in South Asia. The average score for all 185 countries included in the study was 40.3. Only 10 countries, representing less than 1 percent of the world’s population, had scores over 50. The countries with the highest scores were Vietnam, Iran, Indonesia, and India, with the lowest being Brazil, Mexico, the United States, and Egypt.
Globally, among adults, women were more likely to eat the recommended diets than men, and older adults were more likely than younger adults.
Healthy eating was also influenced by socioeconomic factors, including education level and urbanization. Globally and in most regions, more educated adults and children with more educated parents had higher overall nutritional quality.”
Victoria Miller, lead author
“On average across the world, diet quality was also higher among younger children, but then worsened as children got older,” she adds. “This suggests that early childhood is an important time for intervention strategies to encourage the development of healthy food preferences.”
The researchers note that some of the replica studies to consider include measurement errors in dietary data, incomplete survey availability in some countries, and a lack of information about some important dietary considerations, such as trans fat intake. But the results provide key benchmarks for comparison as new information is added to the global nutritional database.
Turn data into policy
Researchers say that the size and details nature foods The study enables nutrition researchers, health agencies and policy makers to better understand dietary intake trends that can be used to set goals and invest in actions that encourage healthy eating, such as promoting diets consisting of produce, seafood and vegetable oils.
“We have found that both a lack of healthy foods and a lot of unhealthy foods contribute to global challenges in achieving recommended nutritional quality,” Mozaffarian says. “This suggests that policies that incentivize and reward more healthy foods, such as health care, employer wellness programs, government nutrition programs, and agricultural policies, may have a significant impact on improving nutrition in the United States and around the world.”
The research team then plans to look at estimating how different aspects of poor diets directly contribute to major disease states around the world, as well as modeling the effects of different policies and programs to improve diets at the global, regional and national levels.
This research was supported by Grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the American Heart Association. Full information on authors, funders, and conflicts of interest is available in the published paper.
Miller, F.; and others. (2022) Global nutritional quality in 185 countries from 1990 to 2018 shows significant differences by country, age, education and urbanity. nature foods. doi.org/10.1038/s43016-022-00594-9.
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