Despite the string of appeals encouraging Britons to watch their food intake over the past three decades, researchers found that diets in the UK, in keeping with the global trend, have become only marginally more healthy than they were in 1990.
The team of researchers from Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts said they hope their findings would prompt governments to act more decisively in cleaning up their populations’ diets.
The study used the Alternative Healthy Eating Index, which ranks different diets from different cultures on a scale of 0 to 10. The lower end of that scale represents heavy consumption of sugar and processed meats, while the top end would be an ideal balance of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and whole grains.
The researchers recorded an average global score in 2018 of 40.3 — a meagre 1.5 points higher than it was in 1990.
Diets in Britain also improved by just 1.5 points. Despite now eating more vegeables and nuts than we used to, we are simultaneously consuming more red meat, sugary drinks and salt.
Older adults were found to sustain more healthy diets than younger ones, and women tended to eat more healthily than men.
Lower scorers included Latin America and the Carribbean, respectively earning 30.3 points, while diets in South Asia reached up to 45.7.
It is thought that just one per cent of the world’s population has a diet that scores higher than 50 out of 100.
Poor diet is the globe’s leading cause of illness, responsible for just over a quarter of early deaths, the researchers noted in the journal Nature Food.
The researchers hope next to look into how different aspects of poor diet contribute to the onset of disease worldwide.
The team also plans to model the effects of different policies aimed at improving diet in the US and beyond.
Dr Dariush Mozaffarian, who led the research, said: “We found that both too few healthy foods and too many unhealthy foods were contributing to global challenges in achieving recommended dietary quality.
“This suggests that policies that incentivise and reward more healthy foods, such as in healthcare, employer wellness programmes, government nutrition programmes, and agricultural policies, may have a substantial impact on improving nutrition in the United States and around the world.”