The average person’s diet hasn’t improved much in the past 30 years, despite great advances in nutritional science — and Americans are among those who eat the worst, a new study finds.
Researchers from Tufts University, in Medford, Massachusetts, collected data from 185 countries included in the Global Dietary Database to gauge which countries had the healthiest eaters from 1990 to 2018 and how many diets had changed during the period.
They found the ‘small, but significant’ increase in overall dietary health, but huge differences between certain countries. South Asian and Sub-Saharan African populations have the healthiest diets, while people in Latin America eat the least healthy.
The United States is among the countries with the worst diets, with Brazil, Egypt and Mexico at the bottom of the list. India, Indonesia, Iran and Vietnam are the countries with the healthiest eating inhabitants.
Poor nutrition around the world has been linked to an obesity crisis in much of the West. A recent study found that they could even fuel a global rise in early-stage cancer, posing an increasing challenge to global health officials. About one in four deaths worldwide can be attributed to poor nutrition, experts say.
In a study of food quality around the world, researchers found little change over the past 30 years. The United States is among the countries with the worst quality diets, with Egypt and Brazil at the bottom of the list
“Intake of legumes/nuts and non-starchy vegetables increased over time, but overall improvements in nutritional quality were offset by increased intake of unhealthy components such as red/processed meats, 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, collected data from nearly 200 countries over 28 years for the study.
Each country’s average diet was placed on a scale of zero to 100 each year, with a higher number being more desirable.
Foods such as legumes, nuts, whole grains, omega-3 fatty acid-rich seafood and non-starchy vegetables were considered the healthiest foods.
Sugar-sweetened drinks and red meat were considered the least healthy of the bunch.
In 2018, the average country ate a diet with a score of 40.3, just a slight increase from the figure of 38.8 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 world’s population.
South Asians and Sub-Saharan Africans eat the highest quality diets, researchers found, while those in Latin America eat the worst foods
Iran is the healthiest food country in the world, with the Middle Eastern country increasing its food quality score by 12 points from 1980 to 2018 — the largest increase anywhere in the world.
The United States had the world’s second largest increase, at 4.5 points, but was still among the worst eating countries in the world.
In nearly every region considered by researchers, adults are healthier than children — so to a significant degree in some areas — with teenage years proving to be the worst.
“On average around the world, nutritional quality was also higher in younger children, but then deteriorated as children got older,” Miller said.
“This suggests that early childhood is an important time for intervention strategies to stimulate the development of healthy dietary preferences.”
Researchers also found that people with higher education and better socioeconomic status ate healthier, especially more fruits and non-starchy vegetables in their diets.
No difference was found in diet quality between rural and urban Americans.
“Healthy eating was also influenced by socioeconomic factors, including education level and urbanity,” Miller added.
“Globally and in most regions, higher educated adults and children with higher educated parents tended to have higher overall nutritional quality.”
Poor nutrition around the world is contributing to a crisis of obesity, and even the global rise in cancer rates among young people around the world.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that more than 70 percent of Americans are overweight — including 40 percent who are obese.
According to official estimates, about ten percent of the world’s population also suffers from the condition.
A Brigham and Women’s Hospital study published earlier this month found that rates of 14 early cancers were on the rise in 44 countries, with burgeoning obesity rates and “Western” unhealthy diets bearing large parts of the blame.