Visualizing evolving global diets: National Geographic puts CIAT’s data into an interactive graphic

1 September, 2014 by (comments)

Earlier this year, CIAT published a study in PNAS, which addresses the increasing homogeneity of global food supplies and the implications for food security. It revealed that diets worldwide have become more similar by an average of 36% in the last 50 years.

According to the study, global food systems rely increasingly on just a few crops – in particular wheat, rice, and maize, plus a couple of oil and sugar crops – and on greater consumption of animal products. This not only means that we are all eating more or less the same food stuffs on all continents, but also that global food supplies may be increasingly vulnerable to the weaknesses inherent in globalized production, transport, and trade.

The study “whet the appetite of global media” (see blog), with related articles in outlets such as The Guardian, BBC, NBC News, Voice of America, Time Magazine, Los Angeles Times, and many more.NatGeo_snapshot Now, National Geographic1 has put the detailed results of CIAT’s study on the evolution of diets worldwide into an interactive graphic as part of “The Future of Food,” a special 8-month series, which investigates how to meet our growing needs for nourishment without harming the planet.

The graphic shows how national diets since 1961 have become ever more similar, – with some countries undergoing drastic changes.

Although changes have occurred worldwide, diets have most significantly departed from what they were 50 years ago in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. In Africa, 18 countries have diets that have changed by more than 25%. Sugar consumption in the Republic of Congo, for example, has increased 858% since 1961.

Consumption of animal products increased fivefold in Korea, while traditional crops such as rice, millet, and sweet potatoes declined.

It is true that similarities within the food system facilitate food production through technology transfer and centralized research, for example. Simultaneously, however, these similarities make the global food supply more susceptible to widespread problems, such as pests, disease, and climate change. As more uniform crops are grown over larger areas, greater amounts of these crops risk failure, jeopardizing the global food supply.

Increasing quantities of major staples in diets have helped provide sufficient food energy in countries with historic problems of undernourishment. Malnourishment, particularly micronutrient deficiency, still exists, though. Moreover, the negative effects of overnourishment due to excess calories, sugar, and fat in diets have become a global health burden. As the interactive figure shows, diets continue to evolve.

They are likely to change quite a lot more in the future, as the increasing incidence of diet-related disease forces food systems to provide healthier diets around the world. Whether we have food systems that can respond to needed change and remain productive under increasing demand for food and greater environmental stress in production systems will be determined to a great degree by how much we prepare now.

1 National Geographic Magazine, issue of September 2014


Visit National Geographic page

Read the study

More resources:

Infographic: Countries’ food supply composition in contribution to calories

Infographic: Composition of the global diet and calorie contribution from different crops


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Filed Under: Agro-ecology and Economics @en, Climate Change, Crop diversity, Crops @en