As worldwide poverty rates are reduced, it is expected that a decrease in malnutrition rates follow suit. However, new findings have shown that as people come out of poverty, a new type of malnutrition could take hold, with new and dangerous risks to their health.

The world of public health continues to change with populations and communities when new causes for concerns arise. Oftentimes, as countries become more developed, they become more urbanized. As people come out of poverty they often migrate to cities to find work. The most recent data estimates that by 2050, 70% of the global population will be living in cities. With such a high rate of urbanization, concerns for not only infrastructure, but also for health come up. The traditional health concerns for rapidly urbanized areas include issues of air pollution, overcrowding, trash, water use and infrastructural capacity. Recently, researchers are looking at a new health concern–the adoption of a western diet.

The western diet is characterized by major consumption of refined sugars and fats, animal products and overly processed food in conjunction with less consumption of plant-based foods. Basically, this means people consume more fats, sugars, salts, and meats, and less fruits and vegetables. This translates to more calories with less nutritional benefits. The United States has been coping with this problem for years now, as this type of diet leads to a plethora of health problems including obesity, diabetes and even cancer. We have seen in the United States how instances of “food desserts”—areas with little access to fresh, healthy foods, are related to lower income and urbanization rates and have been battling the outcomes of such. Now the problem has spread to become an even larger global health concern.

As developing countries become more urbanized, though poverty may be reduced, malnutrition and quality of life may remain stagnant, for other reasons. The programs in place that are aimed at alleviating these problems in poverty stricken areas are not targeting this new version malnutrition, which could lead to new dangerous trends. As large corporate fast food chains invest in markets abroad, populations coming out of poverty and into the city will likely be enticed by low prices and availability, similar to developed countries. Often times in developing countries people rely on subsidence farming which provides people with fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and grains. When these people no longer need to farm to survive but are still at fragile income levels, they are likely to fall victim to the cheaper, high caloric, low nutrition foods that will end up harming their health.

The good news is that these developing countries are experiencing economic growth, and individuals are coming out of poverty. Hopefully, as today’s world health leaders are much more aware of the very real risks that a western diet poses on one’s health, the threats to the health of these people and of these nations can be improved without the risk of falling back into a new kind of malnutrition.

– Emma Dowd

Sources: CNN, Huffington Post
Photo: CNN