| OSLO, March 3
OSLO, March 3 Increasing similarity in diets
worldwide is a threat to health and food security with many
people forsaking traditional crops such as cassava, sorghum or
millet, an international study showed on Monday.
The report, which said it detailed for the first time the
convergence in crops towards a universal diet in more than 150
nations since the 1960s, showed rises for foods including wheat,
rice, soybeans and sunflower.
Among shifts, Pacific islanders were eating fewer coconuts
as a source of fat and many people in Southeast Asia were
getting fewer calories from rice, it said.
"More people are consuming more calories, protein and fat,
and they rely increasingly on a shortlist of major food crops
... along with meat and dairy products," Colin Khoury, leader of
the study at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture
in Colombia, said in a statement.
Such diets have been linked to risks of heart disease,
cancers and diabetes, the study said. Reliance on a narrower
group of food crops also raises vulnerability to pests and
diseases that might gain because of climate change.
Overall, diets had become 36 percent more similar in the
past 50 years, judged by factors such as shifts in consumption
of more than 50 crops for calories and protein, the study said.
The convergence "continues with no indication of slowing",
according to the study in the U.S. journal Proceedings of the
National Academy of Sciences that included the Global Crop
Diversity Trust, Wageningen University in the Netherlands and
the University of British Columbia in Canada.
Soybean, sunflower oil and palm oil had become part of the
"standard global food supply" alongside crops such as wheat,
rice, maize and potato, the study showed.
Rising wealth in emerging economies meant higher consumption
of products such as meat and sugary drinks that are typical of
Western diets. "We are seeing a rise in obesity and heart
disease ... from Nigeria to China," Khoury told Reuters.
Even so, many national diets had become more varied.
"As the human diet has become less diverse at the global
level over the last 50 years, many countries, particularly in
Africa and Asia, have actually widened their menu of major
staple crops, while changing to more globalized diets," a
The scientists urged diversification, including of crops
that are falling from fashion, such as rye, yams or cassava, to
bolster food security. They also called for preservation of
genetic variety in all crops.
"Genetic uniformity means more vulnerability to pests and
disease," Khoury said. The Irish potato famine in the late
1840s, or southern corn leaf blight in the United States in the
early 1970s, showed the risks of relying on a single crop.
John Kearney, of the Dublin Institute of Technology who was
not involved in the study, said trends in diets could be
reversed with greater awareness of health risks.
Some people in Northern Europe were adopting healthier
Mediterranean diets with more fruit, vegetables and less meat,
he said, even though many in Southern Europe were shifting to
more meat and less olive oil.
(Editing by Dale Hudson)