The developing countries are witnessing widespread urbanization, with 50% of the world’s population now residing in cities, and the figures are expected to reach 70% by 2050.
But it’s just not the living which changes. Urbanization also brings forth an urban lifestyle, which means less physical activity and having a ‘western diet’ to those who live it.
“[There’s a] nutrition transition occurring around the world,” says David Tilman, professor of Ecology at the University of Minnesota. In a recent study, Tilman explored global trends in diet choices and the link between these diets and health.
“People around the world, as incomes go up, choose more calories and meat in their diet,” says Tilman. The result? Potentially disastrous consequences on health and an increased risk of disease.
“We have a whole new group of people who are malnourished because they eat foods that are no good for them, that have no nutritional benefit,” says Tilman. The trend contradicts the more traditional causes of malnutrition.
Also on the rise is access to, and consumption of, processed foods.
“Processed foods have low nutritional value,” says Tilman, who describes processed food as having empty calories. “Diets low in fruit and vegetables have a strong negative health impact,” he says. And a diet high in processed foods — and generally a modern “Western” diet — is even worse.
But to make things clear: Here is the proper meaning of a ‘western diet':
“The biggest features [of a Western diet] are overconsumption of over-refined sugars, highly refined and saturated fats, animal protein and a reduced intake of plant-based fibers,” says Ian Myles, from the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. This translates to a diet high in fat, red meat, salt and sugars, and low in fiber.
“Too many calories in general,” says Myles — a trend aided by the move towards a culture of fast food.
But how does this affect your health?
It increases your risk of infection. According to Myles, highly processed and refined foods, common to Western meals, are disliked by the body. “It throws your immune system off kilter,” he says.
According to Myles, the ones which are most responsible for this are the foods which have fructose aand palmitic acid, which are ingredients most prevalent in candy bars, which can kick-start an immune reaction.
“[Palmitic acid] can be confused by the body with bacteria like E.Coli,” says Myles. The body then starts an immune attack against the supposed bacteria, which results in a low level of inflammation. Distracting the immune system in this way means immune cells won’t be as ready to attack when facing a real infection. “It throws off the way your body responds…and by the time you recognize it, it will have gotten worse,” says Myles.