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J Nutr. 2001 Mar;131(3):871S-873S.

The nutrition transition and obesity in the developing world.

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  • 1Department of Nutrition and the Carolina Population Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, CB #8120 University Square, 123 West Franklin Street, Chapel Hill, NC 27516-3997, USA.


Changes in diet and activity patterns are fueling the obesity epidemic. These rapid changes in the levels and composition of dietary and activity/inactivity patterns in transitional societies are related to a number of socioeconomic and demographic changes. Using data mainly from large nationally representative and nationwide surveys, such as the 1989, 1991, 1993 and 1997 China Health and Nutrition Surveys, in combination with comparative analysis across the regions of the world, we examine these factors. First, we show the shifts in diet and activity are consistent with the rapid changes in child and adult obesity and in some cases have been causally linked. We then provide a few examples of the rapid changes in the structure of diet and activity, in particular associated with increased income. Cross-country and in-depth analysis of the China study are used to explore these relationships. People living in urban areas consume diets distinctly different from those of their rural counterparts. One of the more profound effects is the accelerated change in the structure of diet, only partially explained by economic factors. A second is the emergence of a large proportion of families with both currently malnourished and overweight members as is shown by comparative analysis of a number of Asian and Latin American countries.

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