Which countries have the healthiest diets in the world? Belgium and Hungary score worst while Chad and Sierra Leone top the global table
By Madlen Davies for MailOnline
Global study assessed diets and eating habits of 197 countries worldwide
Scored each country on healthy foods, unhealthy foods, and overall diet
Chad, Sierra Leone and Mali, all in Africa, scored the highest overall
Armenia, Hungary and Belgium were the least healthy countries globally
Experts said improving diets was key to reducing global disease burden
Belgians are known for their chocolate and waffles, while Hungarians are famous for their rich goulash.
But now, a global study has revealed they are among the nations with the worst diets in the world.
Meanwhile, Chad and Sierra Leone, in Africa, have the best diets, consuming the most fruit, vegetables, nuts and whole grains.
The study, which assessed the quality of diets around the world, found a rise in consumption of fruit and vegetables worldwide.
Belgians are known for their waffles and their chocolate – and now a global study has revealed Armenia, Belgium and Hungary have the worst diets in the world
But this rise was outpaced by an increase in the consumption of junk food.
The study, published in The Lancet Global health journal assessed the quality of diet in 197 countries, covering almost 4.5 billion adults, 90 per cent of the global population.
Between 1990 and 2010 researchers found the greatest improvements in diets in high-income nations, with small reductions in the consumption of unhealthy foods and increased intake of healthy foods like fruit and vegetables.
Despite this, people living in many of the wealthiest regions – such as the U.S. and Canada, Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand still have some of the poorest quality diets in the world.
This is because they have some of the highest consumption of unhealthy food worldwide, researchers said.
In contrast, some countries in sub-Saharan Africa and some countries in Asia – such as China and India – have seen no improvement in the quality of their diet over the past 20 years.
The authors warn the study found a worrying picture, in which unhealthy eating habits outpaced increases in healthy eating patterns across most world regions.
THE COUNTRIES WITH THE BEST AND WORST DIETS WORLDWIDE
The countries with the healthiest diets overall were:
2. Sierra Leone
7. Ivory Coast
The countries with the least healthy diets overall were:
4. Czech Rebublic
As part of the study, a team of international researchers analysed data on the consumption of 17 key food items and nutrients related to obesity and major diseases like heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and diet-related cancers.
They looked at the changes in diets between 1990 and 2010 in countries around the world.
They looked at three different diet patterns and gave each a score.
The first was based on 10 healthy food items: fruit, vegetables, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, whole grains, milk, total polyunsaturated fatty acids, fish, omega-3s, and dietary fibre.
The second was an unfavourable diet based on seven unhealthy items: unprocessed meats, processed meats, sugar-sweetened drinks, saturated fat, trans fat, dietary cholesterol, and salt.
The third was an overall diet pattern based on all 17 food groups.
The researchers assessed differences by country, age, sex, and national income, and gave each country a score between 0 – 100, with a higher score indicating a healthier diet.
They found high-income countries ate more healthy foods than low income countries, scoring 2.5 points higher on average.
However, overall, they had substantially poorer diets due to a higher intake of unhealthy foods – the average difference in score was -33 points.
On average, older people and women seem to consume better diets.
People in Tunisia, Barbados and Cape Verde eat the most fruit and vegetables, while Azerbajan, Slovakia and the Czech Republic eat the most unhealthy and processed foods, the study found
Follow our top tips on how to stick to a healthy diet plan
Several low income countries – such as Chad and Mali scored the highest for healthy foods, while European countries like Belgium and Hungary and republics of the former Soviet Union – including Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyzstan – scored lowest for healthy foods.
Previous studies on the quality of diets worldwide had revealed large differences in quality between nations, but researchers noted such large differences were not seen in the new study, when overall diet was scored.
FRUIT AND VEGETABLE VS JUNK FOOD CONSUMPTION WORLDWIDE
The countries who scored highest for healthy foods were:
3. Cape Verde
The countries who scored highest for unhealthy foods were:
3. Czech Republic
5. Heilongjiang, a Chinese province
Dr Fumiaki Imamura, of the University of Cambridge, who led the research, said: ‘By 2020, projections indicate that non-communicable diseases will account for 75 per cent of all deaths.
‘Improving diet has a crucial role to play in reducing this burden.
‘Our findings have implications for governments and international bodies worldwide.
‘The distinct dietary trends based on healthy and unhealthy foods, we highlight, indicate the need to understand different, multiple causes of these trends, such as agricultural, food industry, and health policy.
‘Policy actions in multiple domains are essential to help people achieve optimal diets to control the obesity epidemic and reduce diseases in all regions of the world.’
Dr Dariush Mozaffarian, of Tufts University, U.S., and senior author on the paper, said: ‘There is a particularly urgent need to focus on improving diet quality among poorer populations.
If we do nothing, under-nutrition will be rapidly eclipsed by obesity and non-communicable diseases, as is already being seen in India, China, and other middle-income countries.’
This analysis was performed by the Global Burden of Diseases Nutrition and Chronic Diseases Expert Group (NutriCoDE).
NutriCoDE is an ongoing project assessing dietary information from more than 300 dietary surveys and UN Food and Agriculture food-balance sheets across the world.