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NewsBites May 2015 Issue

World’s Diets Still Have a Long Way to Go

In a first-of-its-kind analysis of worldwide dietary patterns, researchers from Tufts and the University of Cambridge found overall diet quality worsened even as consumption of healthier foods increased in many countries. The study, published in The Lancet Global Health, compared trends in 1990 and 2010. Overall, increases in unhealthy foods outpaced beneficial dietary changes, especially in middle-income nations.

“While it’s encouraging to see some improvement in parts of the world, we still have a long way to go,” says Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, DrPH, senior author and dean of Tufts’ Friedman School. “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.”

Dr. Mozaffarian is chair of the Global Burden of Diseases Nutrition and Chronic Diseases Expert Group (NutriCoDE), an international team of scientists who reviewed 325 dietary surveys, representing almost 90% of the world’s adult population. The study focused on 17 common foods, drinks and nutrients.

Internationally, older adults tended to have better quality diets than younger adults, and women tended to eat healthier than men. Consumption of healthy foods and nutrients increased in high- and middle-income countries, but not significantly in low-income countries. Researchers suggest the positive changes may be due to better storage, transport and availability of out-of-season foods worldwide. In higher-income countries, they also credited improvements in agricultural practices and increased recognition of the importance of healthier diets to minimize conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

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