Diets Haven’t Improved Much Worldwide, and U.S. Remains Near Bottom of List

Date:


MONDAY, Sept. 19, 2022 — Despite everything people have learned about good nutrition, folks around the world aren’t eating much healthier than they were three decades ago, a new global review has concluded.

Diets are still closer to a poor score of zero — with loads of sugar and processed meats — than they are to a score of 100 representing lots of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and whole grains, Tufts University researchers report.

“Intake of legumes/nuts and non-starchy vegetables increased over time, but overall improvements in dietary quality were offset by increased intake of unhealthy components such as red/processed meat, sugar-sweetened beverages and sodium,” said lead author Victoria Miller. She’s a postdoctoral scholar at Tufts’ Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy in Boston.

For the study, researchers measured eating patterns among adults and children across 185 countries, based on data gathered from more than 1,100 diet surveys.

The world’s overall dietary score is around 40.3, representing a small but meaningful 1.5-point gain between 1990 and 2018, researchers found.

But scores varied widely between regions, with averages ranging as low at 30.3 in Latin America and the Caribbean to as high as 45.7 in South Asia.

Only 10 countries, representing less than 1% of the world’s population, had diet scores over 50.

Nations with the highest diet scores included Vietnam, Iran, Indonesia and India, while the lowest scoring countries included Brazil, Mexico, the United States and Egypt.

Women were more likely to eat healthier than men, researchers found, and older people more so than younger adults.

“Healthy eating was also influenced by socioeconomic factors, including education level and urbanicity,” Miller said in a university news release. “Globally and in most regions, more educated adults and children with more educated parents generally had higher overall dietary quality.”

Poor diets are responsible for more than a quarter of all preventable deaths worldwide, the researchers said in background notes.

Countries can use this data to guide policies that promote healthy eating, said Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, a cardiologist and dean for policy at the Friedman School.

“We found that both too few healthy foods and too many unhealthy foods were contributing to global challenges in achieving recommended dietary quality,” he said in the release. “This suggests that policies that incentivize and reward more healthy foods, such as in health care, employer wellness programs, government nutrition programs, and agricultural policies, may have a substantial impact on improving nutrition in the United States and around the world.”

The findings were published Sept. 19 in the journal Nature Food.

Sources

  • Tufts University, news release, Sept. 19, 2022

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