To investigate time patterns of compliance with nutrient goals recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).
A single aggregated indicator of distance from the key WHO recommendations for a healthy diet is built using FAOSTAT intake data, bounded between 0 (maximum possible distance from goals) and 1 (perfect adherence). Two hypotheses are tested for different country groupings: (1) whether adherence has improved over time; and (2) whether cross-country disparities in terms of diet healthiness have decreased.
One hundred and forty-nine countries, including 26 countries belonging to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and 115 developing countries (including 43 least developed countries), with yearly data over the period 1961–2002.
The Recommendation Compliance Index (RCI) shows significant improvements in adherence to WHO goals for both developing and especially OECD countries. The latter group of countries show the highest levels of the RCI and the largest increase over time, especially between 1981 and 2002. No improvement is detected for least developed countries. A reduction in disparities (convergence of the RCI) is observed only within the OECD grouping.
Adherence to healthy eating guidelines depends on economic development. Diets are improving and converging in advanced economies, but developing and especially least developed countries are still far from meeting WHO nutrition goals. This confirms findings on the double burden of malnutrition and suggests that economic drivers are more relevant than socio-cultural factors in determining the healthiness of diets.
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