Global Health Observatory (GHO)

Unhealthy diet

Situation and trends

Aligning varying sources and types of data to generate overall estimations of unhealthy diet prevalence is not possible. For that reason, estimates of specific elements of unhealthy diets are presented separately in this text.

Fruit and vegetable consumption

Approximately 16.0 million (1.0%) disability adjusted life years (DALYs, a measure of the potential life lost due to premature mortality and the years of productive life lost due to disability) and 1.7 million (2.8%) of deaths worldwide are attributable to low fruit and vegetable consumption. Adequate consumption of fruit and vegetables reduces the risk for cardiovascular diseases, stomach cancer and colorectal cancer. There is convincing evidence that the consumption of high levels of high-energy foods, such as processed foods that are high in fats and sugars, promotes obesity compared to low-energy foods such as fruits and vegetables.

Salt intake

The amount of dietary salt consumed is an important determinant of blood pressure levels and overall cardiovascular risk.

A population salt intake of less than 5 grams per person per day is recommended by WHO for the prevention of cardiovascular disease. However, data from various countries indicates that most populations are consuming much more salt than this.

It is estimated that decreasing dietary salt intake from the current global levels of 9–12 grams per day – to the recommended level of 5 grams per day – would have a major impact on blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.

Fat intake

High consumption of saturated fats and trans-fatty acids is linked to heart disease; replacement with polyunsaturated vegetable oils lowers coronary heart disease risk. Higher unsaturated fatty acids from vegetable sources and polyunsaturated fatty acids have also been shown to reduce risk of type 2 diabetes.

In the absence of comparable data on individual dietary intakes around the world, the availability of food for human consumption derived from national Food balance sheets are shown in the figure below. However, these may not accurately reflect actual consumption and should be treated as indicative only.

There were large variations across WHO regions in the amount of total fats available for human consumption. The lowest quantities available were recorded in the South East Asia Region, and the highest availability in the European Region. For saturated fatty acids (SFA), the lowest rates were in the African Region, and the highest was in the European Region and the Region of the Americas, with very high values observed in some of the Pacific Islands. Energy from SFA usually accounts for a third of the energy from total fat, with the notable exception of the South East Asia Region, where SFAs account for over 40% of total fat intake.

The availability of total fat increases with income level, while the availability of saturated fats clusters around the value of 8% in low and lower middle income countries and 10% in upper middle income and in high income countries.

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