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Global dietary convergence from 1970 to 2010 altered inequality in agriculture, nutrition and health

Abstract

Humans globally have similar nutritional needs but face large differences in natural resource endowments and local food production. This study quantifies food-system inequality across countries on the basis of natural resource inputs, food/nutrient outputs and nutrition/health outcomes, from 1970 to 2010. Animal source foods and overweight/obesity show rapid convergence while availability of selected micronutrients show slower convergence. However, all variables are more equally distributed than national income per capita, the Gini coefficient of which declined from 0.71 to 0.65. Inequalities in total and animal-source dietary energy declined from 0.16 to 0.10 and 0.55 to 0.36, respectively. There was convergence in overweight/obesity prevalence from 0.39 to 0.27, while undernutrition and stunting became increasingly concentrated in a few high-burden countries. Characterizing cross-country inequalities in agricultural resources, foods, nutrients and health can help identify critical opportunities for agriculture and food policies, as well as prioritize research objectives and funding allocation for the coming decade.

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Fig. 1: GDP per capita.
Fig. 2: Area harvested per rural capita and livestock units per rural capita.
Fig. 3: Energy from ASF and from F&V.
Fig. 4: Micronutrient availability per capita.
Fig. 5: Stunting per children <5, and underweight, and overweight per adult population.
Fig. 6: Hypertension, female and male.
Fig. 7: Levels and changes in Gini coefficients (1970 and 2010).

Data availability

All data used in this study are publicly available from open sources as indicated in the references in the Methods. Enquiries related to the NBS should be made to K.L. (k.lividini@cgiar.org).

Code availability

All data analysis was carried out in Stata SE 15. All figures were produced in Stata with the exception of Fig. 7 which was produced using Excel. The code used for data analysis and figure production is available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.

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Acknowledgements

We are grateful to A. Dangour and B. Shankar for initiating this project with funding for W.B. and K.L. from the Wellcome Trust (grant number 210794/Z/18/Z). W.M. was supported by the US Agency for International Development (cooperative agreement 720-OAA-18-LA-00003). Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed here are those of the authors alone.

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W.A.M. conceived the overall study with inputs from W.B. and K.L. W.B. and K.L. assembled the data and developed the model code for the analysis. W.B. drafted the manuscript, K.L. and W.A.M. reviewed and edited the manuscript. All authors contributed to the revisions.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to William A. Masters.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Nature Food thanks Jody Harris, Shauna Downs and Mark Lundy for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary Information

Supplementary Table 1 and Figs. 1–14.

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Bell, W., Lividini, K. & Masters, W.A. Global dietary convergence from 1970 to 2010 altered inequality in agriculture, nutrition and health. Nat Food 2, 156–165 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43016-021-00241-9

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