People around the world aren’t eating healthier than they were 30 years ago — and the US still scores poorly when it comes to diet quality — according to a new study published in the journal Science. nature foods.
Researchers at Tufts University set out to study trends in diet quality in 185 countries, using data that spanned from 1990 to 2018. This data came from a project called global food databasewhich included more than 1,100 different surveys on diet conducted in countries around the world, as mentioned in A Study press release. To assess the participants’ diets using available data from the surveys, the researchers used a tool called the Alternative Healthy Eating Index, which creates a food quality score between 0 (unhealthy) and 100 (healthier).
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The press release noted that poor diet is a major cause of disease worldwide – caused by both diets that lack adequate nutrients and diets that contain a lot of processed or unhealthy foods. In fact, dietary factors are believed to be responsible for 26% of preventable deaths worldwide. One of the goals of the recent study was to find out what kinds of dietary changes would be most beneficial in different global regions and countries, in rural areas and cities, and in different age groups and social groups—a process that begins with discovering different things. Groups of people are already eating.
Scope for improving diet quality scores around the world
The average score for the 185 countries included in the study (standardized by population distribution) was 40.3, indicating significant scope for improving diet quality. In fact, only 10 countries – representing less than 1% of the world’s population – scored a score above 50. South Asia was the highest-scoring global region with 45.7, and the world’s most-scoring provinces were Vietnam, Iran, Indonesia, and India. Latin America and the Caribbean was the global region with the lowest score at 30.3, and the countries with the lowest score were Brazil, Mexico, the United States and Egypt.
Across the world, women were more likely to follow healthy diets than men, and the elderly were more likely to do so than the young. More educated adults and their children were more likely to follow a healthy diet. Another trend seen globally is that younger children are starting on healthier diets that get worse as they get older – indicating that parents often try to provide a healthy diet for their children, but that doing so becomes more difficult over time.
Between 1990 and 2018, the average diet score worldwide increased by 1.5, with five out of seven global regions experiencing an increase – Central/Eastern Europe and Central Asia (an increase of 4.6), high-income countries (an increase of 3.2), Southeast and Southeast Asia. East Asia (increase of 2.7), Middle East and North Africa (increase of 2.2); and Latin America and the Caribbean (an increase of 1.3). No overall change was observed in South Asia, while Sub-Saharan Africa experienced a decrease of 1.1.
There have been some bright spots when it comes to food categories – around the world, intake of legumes/nuts and starchy vegetables increased between 1990 and 2018. But this improvement was offset by an increase in the intake of unhealthy foods and ingredients, including red/processed meat and sugar. Sweetened drinks and sodium (mostly salt).
“We found that both a lack of healthy foods and a lot of unhealthy foods contribute to global challenges in achieving recommended nutritional quality,” said study author Dariush Mozaffarian, professor of nutrition in the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. “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.”
Want to learn more about healthy eating with diabetes? Read “Healthy Eating Strategies,” “Improving Your Recipes: One Step at a Time,” and “What’s the Best Diabetes Diet?”
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