Processed foods and the nutrition transition: evidence from Asia

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Abstract

Summary

This paper elucidates the role of processed foods and beverages in the ‘nutrition transition’ underway in Asia. Processed foods tend to be high in nutrients associated with obesity and diet-related non-communicable diseases: refined sugar, salt, saturated and trans-fats. This paper identifies the most significant ‘product vectors’ for these nutrients and describes changes in their consumption in a selection of Asian countries. Sugar, salt and fat consumption from processed foods has plateaued in high-income countries, but has rapidly increased in the lower–middle and upper–middle-income countries. Relative to sugar and salt, fat consumption in the upper–middle- and lower–middle-income countries is converging most rapidly with that of high-income countries. Carbonated soft drinks, baked goods, and oils and fats are the most significant vectors for sugar, salt and fat respectively. At the regional level there appears to be convergence in consumption patterns of processed foods, but country-level divergences including high levels of consumption of oils and fats in Malaysia, and soft drinks in the Philippines and Thailand. This analysis suggests that more action is needed by policy-makers to prevent or mitigate processed food consumption. Comprehensive policy and regulatory approaches are most likely to be effective in achieving these goals.

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