New research carried out by the University of Kent has revealed that while international food supply patterns are supporting healthier diets in some parts of the world, elsewhere it is causing malnutrition and obesity.
Published in Nature Food, the study analysed food supply data for 171 countries from the 1960’s to 2010’s. It showed that diets are changing in complex ways worldwide due to changes in food supply, advances in technology, and increased incomes, and this is having important implications on environmental sustainability.
Dr James Bentham led the research alongside Professor Majid Ezzati and other UK and international colleagues.
Dr Bentham said: “There are clear shifts in global food supply, and these trends may be responsible for strong improvements in nutrition in some parts of the world.
“However, obesity remains a long-term concern, and we hope that our research will open doors to analysis of the health impacts of global diet patterns. Equally, we must also consider carefully the environmental impacts of these trends.”
According to Kent University, South Korea, China and Taiwan have undergone the most significant changes in food supply over the past five decades, with animal source foods such as meat and eggs, sugar, vegetables, seafood and oil crops all becoming a much larger proportion of the populations’ diet.
With the increase in animal source and sugar availability in these countries, the cases of obesity has also risen.
Meanwhile, in many Western countries, the supply of animal source foods along with sugar has declined. This is particularly visible in high-income English-speaking countries like UK, USA, Canada and Australia.
Results showed that many countries around the world have experienced an increase in vegetable-based diets. The study suggested that these two factors indicate a possible trend towards more balanced and healthier foods.
Yet, the sub-Saharan Africa region showed the least change, with a lack of diverse food supply and researchers suggested this could be an explanation for the region’s malnutrition.
Professor Ezzati added: “Advances in science and technology, together with growing incomes, have allowed many nations to have access to a diversity of foods.
“We must harness these advances and set in place policies that provide healthier foods for people everywhere, especially those who can currently least afford them.”
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