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People are eating more healthy vegetables and nuts than before, but are also consuming more red meat, soda and salt. Diets are not much healthier today than they were 30 years ago, according to new research.
Scientists at Tufts University in Massachusetts said their findings can help governments better understand how eating habits are changing, helping them to set targets and invest in policies that encourage people to consume healthier food.
Researchers ranked different diets on a scale of 0 to 100, with 0 being a diet consisting only of junk food and 100 representing a perfect, healthy diet. The average score in 2018 was 40.3, a modest 1.5 gain compared with 1990.
Healthy options became more popular in the U.S., China, Vietnam and Iran over that time while people's diets became less healthy in Tanzania, Nigeria and Japan.
Overall, people in the Americas and the Caribbean were eating the unhealthiest diets while people in South Asia were eating the healthiest ones.
The U.S., Brazil, Mexico and Egypt were the unhealthiest while India, Vietnam, Iran and Indonesia had some of the best eating habits.
Only 1 percent of the world's population lives in just 10 countries that scored above 50.
Women were more likely to have a good diet than men, and older people ate more healthily than youngsters. More educated adults and kids with better-educated parents were also found to have healthier diets than their more disadvantaged peers.
Young children had some of the best diets which worsened as they aged, the team found. This suggests that early childhood is the best time to engrain healthy habits in kids that they will retain for life.
For the study in the journal Nature Food, the team looked at diet data from more than 1,100 surveys from the Global Dietary Database carried out in 185 countries.
"We found that both too few healthy foods and too many unhealthy foods were contributing to global challenges in achieving recommended dietary quality," said study author Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian of Tufts University.
"This suggests that policies that incentivize and reward more healthy foods, such as in healthcare, employer wellness programs, government nutrition programs, and agricultural policies, may have a substantial impact on improving nutrition in the United States and around the world."
A bad diet is the world's leading cause of illness, responsible for just over a quarter (26 percent) of early deaths. Little is known about how people's diets vary by age, sex, education, or proximity to urban areas.
The team now aims to examine how different aspects of bad diets contribute to the onset of diseases around the world. They also want to model the effects of different policies aimed at improving diets both in the U.S. and globally.
Produced in association with SWNS Talker.
This story was provided to Newsweek by Zenger News.