Global diets ‘barely healthier’ in 30 years

A global study shows that diets are slightly healthier than they have been in 30 years.

Researchers from Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy investigated the eating habits of adults and children in 185 countries over three decades. They used the Alternative Healthy Eating Index, which ranks different diets on a scale from 0 to 100, with zero representing heavy consumption of sugar and processed meat and 100 representing the recommended balance of fruits, vegetables, legumes/nuts, and whole grains. They also used data from more than 1,100 surveys from the World Food Database, a large, collaborative set of data on levels of food and nutrient consumption worldwide.

They concluded that the global average in 2018 was 40.3, 1.5 points higher than it was in 1990. European countries were included in the region defined as “high income countries” which also includes North America and Australia. In 2018, the average score for high-income countries was 37.8 points, up 3.2 points from 1990.

There have been some notable differences by country, with food choices becoming more popular in the United States, Vietnam, China, and Iran, and less so in Tanzania, Nigeria, and Japan.

Regionally, averages ranged from 30.3 in Latin America and the Caribbean to 45.7 in South Asia. Only 10 countries, representing less than 1% of the world’s population, had scores over 50. The countries with the highest scores were Vietnam, Iran, Indonesia, and India, with the lowest being Brazil, Mexico, the United States, and Egypt.