The developing world is seeing rapid urbanization, with more than half the world’s population now living in cities — a figure that is expected to soar to 70% by 2050. But with this progression we are seeing an urban lifestyle, which often means less physical activity and the consumption of a “Western diet”.
“[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, Fox News reported.
“People around the world, as incomes go up, choose more calories and meat in their diet,” says Tilman. The result of this Western diet? Potentially disastrous health consequences 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 more traditional causes of malnutrition.
Another health risk on the rise: 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.
So what exactly is 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 means 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.
According to Myles, highly processed and refined foods, common to Western meals, are rejected by the body. “It throws your immune system off kilter,” he says.