In the supermarket, the fruit and vegetable stalls are full of local and exotic varieties. But we quickly left the shelves of mangoes, apples or bananas to browse in the aisles dedicated to cookies or sweets. Although the choice is much more varied today than thirty years ago, we do not eat better today than in the past, according to the largest study ever published on this subject in nature food. The eating habits of 185 countries were scrutinized between 1990 and 2018. And no matter the region of the world, no one has drastically improved the way they eat.
To understand how our way of eating has stagnated, researchers from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tuft University in Boston (United States) devised a score by country. The scale ranges from 0 for a diet very low in nutrients, high in sugars and processed meats, to 100 for a diet with enough fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains. On average, most countries score around 40.3. A minimal improvement of 1.5 points since 1990. While the consumption of nuts, legumes and vegetables has increased over time, these improvements have been completely offset by the growing presence of red meat and processed meats, sugary drinks such as soft drinks as well as the addition of sodium in food.
Vietnam, Iran and Indonesia in the lead
This study is the first to provide such an exhaustive panorama of the situation throughout the world and to show certain variations depending on the country. In thirty years, the United States, Vietnam, China and Iran are among the countries where the possibility of healthy eating has clearly increased. On the other hand, access to balanced foods has deteriorated in Tanzania, Nigeria and also in Japan. Some countries are doing well, with scores above 50. These are Vietnam, Iran, Indonesia and India. But this represents less than 1% of the world’s population. The countries at the bottom of the ranking are Brazil, Mexico, the United States and Egypt. France is one of the countries with a score between 40 and 43, in the average of countries in the world. At the continental level, the region of the world with the highest score is South Asia, with 45.7 out of 100, while Latin America and the Caribbean has a score of 30.3, the highest. bottom of all.
26% of preventable diseases in the world are due to poor diet. But to put in place incentive public health policies, you must first understand who to target according to age, sex or place of residence. The article of nature food reviewed 1,100 studies from more than 185 countries. Their results show that among adults, women are more likely to adopt the recommended diets than men. Similarly, older adults were more likely to adapt their diets than younger ones. Moreover, socioeconomic factors play a major role in the adoption of these reflexes. Adults and “educated” children generally had a better quality diet. The authors of the study emphasize the role that eating habits play in early childhood: the younger the children, the easier it is to get them to adopt good habits. With age, these good habits tended to slacken in children.
Balance your plate
No matter the country in the world, the equation for eating better lies in one obvious sentence: incorporate more healthy foods on your plate and reduce the share of unhealthy foods. “This assumes that policies that encourage healthy eating, such as government programs, agricultural policies, and medical advice could have a significant impact on the quality of diets not only in the United States but also around the world.“, comments Dariush Mozzafarian, professor of nutrition at Tuft University and co-author of the study.
This study is so detailed that it could serve as the basis for implementing new policies to encourage healthy eating, including more grains, seafood and vegetable oils. It is the first to analyze both the eating behavior of adults and children on a global scale. For the researchers, the next step is to try to observe how poor diet can directly cause disease around the world. The idea is also to show how different health policies and food programs can have a positive impact on a global, regional and national scale.