People in Mali, Chad, Senegal and Sierra Leone enjoy healthier diets than their counterparts in the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan or Canada, according to a study published in The Lancet Global Health this spring.
Researchers examined data from 320 self-reported diet surveys collected between 1990 and 2010 and analyzed them using three dietary patterns. The 1st included the consumption of healthy fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, whole grains, fish, and milk, as well as total polyunsaturated fatty acids, plant omega-3s, and dietary fiber. The 2nd pattern included unprocessed red meats, processed meats, sugary beverages, saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, and sodium. The 3rd pattern looked at all of those food groups at once, and performed an overall assessment based on all 17 food groups. The study covered 187 nations representing 4.5 billion world adults. The researchers also examined varying degrees of adherence to these dietary patterns in order to score nations on a scale of heart-attack-inducing zero to a 100.
US, Canada, Western Europe, Australia, and New Zealand—tend to eat more healthy items, but balance that out, or even outweigh it, with a lot of processed foods. Some parts of the world have seen little flexibility either way. The average diet of a citizen in China, India, or sub-Saharan Africa hasn’t changed much since 1990.
Some low-income nations actually scored higher for healthy foods with places such as Chad, Gambia, Mali, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Côte d’Ivoire, and Uganda receiving some of the highest marks. West African diet of lean meats, vegetables, beans, legumes, and rice does a body good.
Central Asia’s Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan—were among the lowest-scoring nations for healthy food, along with Hungary, Belarus, and the Czech Republic.
The main conclusion of the study is that in much of the world, eating habits are getting worse. Worldwide consumption of healthy foods increased, but in high-income countries that was often outpaced by the growing intake of unhealthy foods, the study found.
These eating habits contribute to the non-communicable diseases—cancer, cardiovascular disease, and respiratory illnesses—that are expected to account for 73% of all deaths by 2020. That’s a reality that is already being felt in the developing world, including some parts of Africa, as people settle into more sedentary, urban lifestyles, and obesity rates rise.