Diets in developing countries in Asia and Africa are have deteriorated substantially in the last twenty years as globalization leads to dramatic increases in the consumption of processed foods high in sugar, fat and starch, a leading expert has warned.
Dariush Mozaffarian, Dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in the US, cited one of the largest studies on international eating habits as evidence that diets in middle and low income countries had worsened as economic growth took hold between 1990 and 2010.
The “globalisation” of western diets – where a small group of food and agriculture companies have disproportionate power to decide what is produced – is partially causing the shift to unhealthy eating, Mr Mozaffarian said.
A study, co-authored by him and published in the March edition of the Lancet Global Health journal, reviewed 325 dietary surveys, representing almost 90 percent of the world’s population.
The study is thought to be the largest yet of international eating habits.
China and India recorded some of the highest increases in unhealthy food consumption, the study said.
Between 1990 and 2014, roughly the same period as the study, the number of hungry people worldwide dropped by 209 million to 805 million, according to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
“Most global nutrition efforts have focused on calories – getting starchy staples to people,” Mozaffarian told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “We need to focus on the quality of calories for poor countries, not just the quantity.”
Old people displayed better eating habits than the young in most of the 187 countries covered in the study.
This is a worrying development, Mozaffarian said, as rates of obesity and chronic diseases like diabetes are set to increase if young people continue eating unhealthy foods.
“Young people are growing up with much worse diets than their parents or grandparents,” he said.