The average person’s diet hasn’t improved much in the past 30 years, despite huge gains in nutrition science, and Americans are among the worst eaters, according to a new study.
Researchers at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, collected data from 185 countries listed in the Global Diet Database to assess which nations had the healthiest meals between 1990 and 2018 and how much diets changed over the period
They found “small but significant” increases in overall dietary health, but massive disparities between certain countries. Populations in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa have the healthiest diets, and people living in Latin America eat the least healthy.
The United States is 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 residents.
Poor diets around the world have been linked to an obesity crisis in much of the West. A recent study found they may even be fueling a global rise in early-onset cancer, posing a growing challenge for global health officials. According to experts, around one in four deaths worldwide can be attributed to poor diets.
In a study of diet quality worldwide, researchers found little change over the past 30 years. The United States is among the countries 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 diet quality were offset by increased intake of unhealthy components such as red/processed meat , sugar-sweetened beverages and sodium,” lead author Victoria Miller. of the study, he said in a statement.
The researchers, who published their findings Monday in Nature Food, gathered data from nearly 200 countries over 28 years for the study.
The average diet for each nation each year was ranked on a scale of zero to 100, with a higher number being more desirable.
Foods such as legumes, nuts, whole grains, seafood rich in omega-3 fatty acids and non-starchy vegetables were considered the healthiest foods.
Sugary drinks and red meat were considered the least healthy of the bunch.
In 2018, the average country was eating a diet with a score of 40.3, only a slight increase from the figure of 38.8 published in 1980.
South Asians recorded the best diets, with 45.7. Only ten countries worldwide scored above 50, and the researchers noted that this represents less than one percent of the world’s population.
The researchers found that South Asians and sub-Saharan Africans eat the highest quality diets, while those from Latin America eat 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 between 1980 and 2018, the biggest increase of any part of the world.
The United States had the second largest increase in the world, gaining 4.5 points, but was still among the worst fed countries in the world.
In almost every region considered by the researchers, adults have healthier diets than children, by a significant margin in some areas, with teenagers proving to be the worst.
“On average across the world, diet quality was also greatest among the youngest children, but then got worse as the children got older,” Miller said.
“This suggests that early childhood is an important time for intervention strategies to encourage the development of healthy food preferences.”
The researchers also found that people with higher education and more affluent socioeconomic status ate healthier, specifically registering more non-starchy fruits and vegetables in their diet.
No difference in diet quality was found between rural and urban Americans.
“Healthy eating was also influenced by socioeconomic factors, such as education level and urbanicity,” Miller added.
“Globally and in most regions, adults and children with more education and parents with more education generally had higher overall dietary quality.”
Poor diets around the world are contributing to an obesity crisis and even the global rise in cancer rates among the world’s youngest.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that more than 70 percent of Americans are overweight, including 40 percent who are obese.
About ten percent of the world’s population also suffers from this disease, according to official estimates.
A Brigham and Women’s Hospital study released earlier this month found that rates of 14 early-onset cancers were rising in 44 countries, with emerging obesity rates and unhealthy diets “in the western style” largely to blame.