Turns out that this may not be as straight forward as many would think. A research team writing in The Lancet Global Health found that diet quality was somehow getting worse despite an increase in the consumption of healthier foods. This is quite confusing as naturally you would assume that there would be a direct correlation between the consumption of healthy foods and overall diet quality, right? Well it seems that despite the consumption of healthy foods increasing, the good was countered by an increase in bad foods. The researchers said that the consumption of unhealthy foods outpaced beneficial dietary changes, meaning diet quality actually worsened despite improvements in healthy foods.
Nutritional Differences around the world
The study from which this information was taken from is the first of its kind, no other study had looked into worldwide dietary patterns to this magnitude before. The researchers assessed 187 countries between 1990 and 2010, this 20 year period was sufficient to identify major differences between countries. The consensus was that no ‘one diet fits all’, and therefore no one dietary intervention will fix the global dietary issues we face.
Senior author Dr Dariush Mozaffarian from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University said:
“While it’s encouraging to see some improvement in parts of the world, we still have a long way to go. With this analysis, we’re supplying data that support longtime speculation that, globally our diets are getting worse.”
“We also show that these changes in dietary patterns vary significantly by country: in some countries, lack of healthy foods is the biggest problem; in others, excess unhealthy foods; and in others, such as the United States, it’s both. This tells us there is no one-size-fits-all approach to improving global diets.”
Study represented almost 90% of world’s adult population
In order to achieve a study of such magnitude, the research team included leading experts from Tufts and the University of Cambridge and was backed financially by The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and UK Medical Research Council (MRC). It needed this kind of following to keep track of 325 dietary surveys that contained info from approximately 90% of the world’s adult population. The info from the surveys focussed on 17 common foods, drinks and nutrients, within this were healthier options such as whole grains, fish, fruit and veg, polyunsaturated fats (the sources are not clear, but most likely from oily fish or flax). Then there were the less healthy options that included sodium, cholesterol, processed meat, and sugar- sweetened beverages.
Some of the key findings were that older adults tended to have better dietary habits compared to the younger subjects. The findings also saw that women ate better than men in general. Other important findings were that the countries income heavily influenced the diet quality, they found that high and middle- income countries consumed more healthy foods and nutrients than less affluent nations. On the flip side of this, the researchers also noted that the higher income nations also consumed considerably more unhealthy foods… what a position to be in!
So it seems that the developed, and more affluent nations are trying to do the right things by eating healthy foods, but undo a lot of those great efforts by following this up with bad food and drink. Does this relate back to our ‘reward’ mentality, maybe we are eating more better foods in an attempt to justify, or even mitigate the negative effects of unhealthy foods. Too many people seem to be saying ‘I ate really well today, so I will have a treat meal tonight… and this really isn’t the way it should be. India and China have seen the largest increases in unhealthy foods (let’s be honest, the UK and US were already up there), so much so that malnutrition is a real risk from the overconsumption of empty calorie foods! Sub Saharan Africa and the Andean states of Latin America demonstrate an urgent need to address diet quality in the poorest nations on earth. Obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease are on the rise in these countries, and are expected to be as big an issue to public health as undernutrition and nutrient deficiencies.
The findings from this massive study can be put to good use, they can help to inform new health and nutrition policies as well as providing nation specific health and nutrition policies. Here’s hoping some more good comes from this!
Gray, N. (2015). NutraIngredients.com. Global ‘diet quality’ falling, despite the rise of healthy foods. Retrieved 11th March, 2015, from http://www.nutraingredients.com/Research/Global-diet-quality-falling-despite-the-rise-of-healthy-foods?nocounth