The changing structure of diets in the European Union in relation to healthy eating guidelines

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Abstract

Objective

Our objective in this paper is to assess diets in the European Union (EU) in relation to the recommendations of the recent World Health Organization/Food and Agriculture Organization expert consultation and to show how diets have changed between 1961 and 2001.

Data and methods

Computations make use of FAOSTAT data on food availability at country level linked to a food composition database to convert foods to nutrients. We further explore the growing similarity of diets in the EU by making use of a consumption similarity index. The index provides a single number measure of dietary overlap between countries.

Results

The data confirm the excessive consumption by almost all countries of saturated fats, cholesterol and sugars, and the convergence of nutrient intakes across the EU. Whereas in 1961 diets in several European countries were more similar to US diets than to those of other European countries, this is no longer the case; moreover, while EU diets have become more homogeneous, the EU as a whole and the USA have become less similar over time.

Conclusions

Although the dominant cause of greater similarity in EU diets over the period studied is increased intakes in Mediterranean countries of saturated fats, cholesterol and sugar, also important are reductions in saturated fat and sugar in some Northern European countries. This suggests that healthy eating messages are finally having an impact on diets; a distinctly European diet may also be emerging.

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