National Food Consumption patterns: Converging Trends and the implications for health
Authors: Lloyd, T., Disegna, M. and Le, H.T.
Journal: EuroChoices: agri-food and rural resources issues
Worldwide, obesity almost tripled between 1975 and 2016 and is now prevalent in both rich and poor countries. Using half a century of annual food availability data in 118 countries produced by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), this article explores the diets that are central to the problem of obesity, identifying groups of countries with similar consumption patterns. Applying algorithms from the fuzzy clustering literature, five distinct consumption patterns are revealed whose dietary composition broadly corresponds to diets that we label ‘Western’, ‘Traditional’, ‘Mediterranean’, ‘Tropical’ and ‘Vegetarian’. Despite differences in dietary characteristics, all five share two common themes: rising total calories and declining healthiness, both of which are linked to the substitution of plant-based foods with food derived from animals. That the evidence points to a convergence on the ‘Western’ diet, the most obesogenic and least healthy of all the diets we consider, is a cause for concern. The key message is that in a future where people are predicted to live longer but not necessarily healthier lives, recent efforts to address the challenge are prescient, and as the results in the article imply, need to be heeded globally.