The average person’s diet has not improved much in the past 30 years despite major gains made in nutrition science – and Americans are among those eating the worst, a new study finds.
Researchers at Tufts University, in Medford, Massachusetts, gathered data from 185 countries listed in the Global Dietary Database to gauge which nations had the healthiest eaters from 1990 to 2018, and how much diets changed during the period.
They found the ‘small, but meaningful’ increase in overall dietary health, but massive disparities between certain countries. South Asian and Sub-Saharan African populations have the healthiest diets, with people living in Latin America eating the least healthy.
The United States finds itself among the nations with the worst diets, joining Brazil, Egypt and Mexico at the bottom of the list. India, Indonesia, Iran and Vietnam are the nations with the healthiest eating residents.
Poor diets across the world have been linked to a obesity crisis in much of the west. A recent study found that they could even be fueling a global rise in early onset cancer, presenting a mounting challenge to global health officials. Around one-in-four deaths worldwide can be attributed to poor diets, experts say.
In a study of diet quality across the world, researchers found little change over the past 30 years. The United States is among the nation’s with the worst quality diets, joining Egypt and Brazil at the bottom of the list
‘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,’ Victoria Miller, lead author of the study, said in a statement.
Researchers, who published their findings Monday in Nature Food, gathered data from nearly 200 countries across 28 years for the study.
The average diet of each nation every year was placed of a zero to 100 scale, with a higher number being more desirable.
Foods like legumes, nuts, whole grains, omega-3 fatty acid-rich seafood and non-starchy vegetables were considered to be the healthiest foods.
Sugar-sweetened beverages and red meat were considered to be the least healthy of the bunch.
In 2018, the average country was eating a diet scored at 40.3, only a slight increase from the 38.8 figure posted in 1980.
South Asians recorded the best diets, scoring a 45.7. Only ten countries in the entire world scored higher than 50 – with researchers noting that this makes up less than one percent of the global population.
South Asians and Sub-Saharan Africans eat the highest quality diets, researchers found, while those in Latin America are eating the worst food
Iran is the healthiest eating country in the world, with the middle-eastern nation increasing its diet quality score by 12 points from 1980 to 2018 – the largest increase of anywhere in the world.
The United States had the world’s second largest increase, gaining 4.5 points, but still found itself among the worst eating countries in the world.
In nearly every region considered by researchers adults are healthier diets than children – so a significant extent in some areas – with teenage years proving to be the worst.
‘On average across the world, dietary quality was also greater among younger children but then worsened as children aged,’ Miller said.
‘This suggests that early childhood is an important time for intervention strategies to encourage the development of healthy food preferences.’
Researchers also found that people that are higher educated and more well-off in socio-economic standing were eating healthier – specifically recording more fruits and non-starchy vegetables in their diet.
There was no difference in diet quality found between rural and urban Americans.
‘Healthy eating was also influenced by socioeconomic factors, including education level and urbanicity,’ Miller added.
‘Globally and in most regions, more educated adults and children with more educated parents generally had higher overall dietary quality.’
Poor diets across the world are contributing to a crisis of obesity, and even the global uptick in cancer rates among younger people across the world.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that more than 70 percent of Americans are overweight – including 40 percent that are obese.
Around ten percent of the global population is suffering from the condition as well, according to official estimates.
A Brigham and Women’s Hospital study published earlier this month found that rates of 14 early onset cancers were rising in 44 countries, with the budding obesity rate and ‘western style’ unhealth diets holding large portions of the blame.