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The transitional dynamics of caloric ecosystems: changes in the food supply around the world

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Changes to the global food supply have been characterized by greater availability of edible oils, sweeteners, and meats – a profound ‘nutrition transition’ associated with rising obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Through an analysis of three longitudinal databases of food supply, sales, and economics across the period 1961–2010, we observed that the change in global food supply has been characterized by a dramatic rise in pig meat consumption in China and poultry consumption in North America. These changes have not been experienced by all rapidly developing countries, and are not well explained by changes in income. The changes in food supply include divergence among otherwise similar neighboring countries, suggesting that the changes in food supply are not an inevitable result of economic development. Furthermore, we observed that the nutrition transition does not merely involve an adoption of ‘Western’ diets universally, but can also include an increase in the supply of edible oils that are uncommon in Western countries. Much of the increase in sales of sugar-sweetened beverages and packaged foods is attributable to a handful of multinational corporations, but typically from products distributed through domestic production systems rather than foreign importation. While North America and Latin America continued to have high sugar-sweetened beverage and packaged food sales in recent years, Eastern Europe and the Middle East have become emerging markets for these products. These findings suggest further study of natural experiments to identify which policies may mitigate nutritional risk factors for chronic disease in the context of economic development.
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Keywords: food systems; global health; nutrition transition

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Prevention Research Center, Centers for Health Policy, Primary Care and Outcomes Research, and Center on Poverty and Inequality, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA

Publication date: May 27, 2015

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