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Am J Clin Nutr. 2000 Jan;71(1):44-53.

The nutrition transition in South Korea.

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  • 1Department of Nutrition, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the Department of Food and Nutrition, Yonsei University, Seoul, South Korea.



An accelerating shift from infectious to noncommunicable diseases and concurrent shifts in diet, activity, and body composition are universal trends but are especially apparent in middle- and lower-income countries. A unique nutrition transition has occurred in South Korea, a country that modernized earlier than most Asian countries did.


The purpose of this analysis was to describe the South Korean nutrition transition, focusing on specific features that other countries might follow to retain the healthful elements of their traditional diets.


We used secondary data on economics, dietary intake, anthropometry, and causes of death, including a series of comparable nationally representative dietary surveys (the National Nutrition Survey).


The structure of South Korea's economy, along with the country's dietary and disease patterns, began an accelerated shift in the 1970s. Major dietary changes included a large increase in the consumption of animal food products and a fall in total cereal intake. Uniquely, the amount and rate of increase in fat intake have remained low in South Korea. South Korea also has a relatively low prevalence of obesity compared with other Asian countries with similar or much lower incomes.


The nutrition transition in South Korea is unique. National efforts to retain elements of the traditional diet are thought to have shaped this transition in South Korea in the midst of rapid economic growth and the introduction of Western culture.

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