The consumption of unhealthy foods, such as sugar-sweetened drinks and processed meats, is outpacing the consumption of healthy foods, such as fruit and vegetables, in most parts of the world, a major new study has found.
This marks the first study to assess the quality of diet in 187 countries covering almost 4.5 billion people. It found that while the consumption of healthy foods has improved over the last 20 years, it has been outpaced by the consumption of unhealthy foods in most world regions.
European and US researchers studied three different dietary patterns involving 17 key food items and nutrients:
-A favourable dietary pattern based on 10 healthy food items such as fruit, vegetables, whole grains, fish and milk
-An unfavourable one based on seven unhealthy food items, such as processed meats, sugar-sweetened drinks and saturated fat
-An overall diet pattern based on all 17 food items.
The study found that almost everywhere, unhealthy food consumption outpaced healthy food consumption, although on average, women and older people appeared to consume healthier diets.
The highest scores for healthy foods were found in Mediterranean countries, such as Greece and Turkey, and in a number of low-income countries such as Chad.
Low scores for healthy foods were found in many republics of the former Soviet Union and some central European countries.
"By 2020, projections indicate that non-communicable diseases will account for 75% of all deaths. Improving diet has a crucial role to play in reducing this burden.
"Our findings have implications for governments and international bodies worldwide. The distinct dietary trends based on healthy and unhealthy foods indicate the need to understand different, multiple causes of these trends, such as agricultural, food industry, and health policy," commented lead researcher, Dr Fumiaki Imamura, of the University of Cambridge in the UK.
Details of these findings are published in the journal, The Lancet Global Health.