Feb 23, 2015 by


People in some poor and middle-income countries have healthier diets than those in rich ones, health but major Western snack and soft drink makers are targeting children in ways that will damage their health, purchase according to a new series of studies on obesity.

The studies, published last week in special issues of The Lancet and Lancet Global Health on obesity, detailed worsening food-consumption habits around the world. The research also showed how much advertising for junk foods had soared and how few countries had moved to protect their children from it.

Some very poor countries scored well in a study that compared consumption of 13 healthy foods (like fruits and whole grains) and seven unhealthy ones (like colas and trans fats) in 187 countries. Chad and Mali scored highest; close behind were Laos, Myanmar and Guyana, along with Greece and Turkey, where Mediterranean diets are common.

The countries with the worst diets included Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Argentina. The United States had a below-average score, faring worse than Canada or Mexico and on a par with Brazil and countries in Eastern Europe.

An alarming pattern is emerging in Brazil, Vietnam, South Africa, India, Mexico and other formerly poor countries as they become richer, one study found: Many children are stunted in height from poor nutrition and yet obese.

In Egypt, one study found, stunting in toddlers increased after 2003 because home poultry flocks were culled to stop H5N1 avian flu.

At the same time, advertising of soft drinks, snacks and sugary cereals to children increased on television and in apps and online games; spending on Coke and Pepsi advertising alone in Arab countries rose to $400 million in 2012 from $40 million six years earlier.

Per-capita consumption of Coke tripled in Egypt over the last 20 years, and the number of McDonald’s outlets went from four in 1994 to 56 in 2013. A 2011 survey of Egyptian teenagers found that a third were overweight.

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