Why we need dietary data

by Megan Deitchler

Director, Intake - Center for Dietary Assessment, FHI 360


Recent health statistics underscore an evolving and deeply complex nutrition situation in many low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).  While undernutrition and food insecurity continue to be pervasive problems, at the same time, changes in dietary patterns among some segments of the population have contributed to a rapid rise in the prevalence of overweight/obesity and diet-related non-communicable diseases. 

Diets – like incomes – have become increasingly segmented within LMICs.  While diets among lower-income populations tend to rely heavily on starch-based foods and are often characterized by a lack of diversity; diets among higher-income populations are shifting towards increased consumption of highly processed packaged foods that are high in energy and fat, and low in nutrient content. Not surprisingly, this shift in dietary patterns in LMICs has contributed to a rapid rise in the prevalence of overweight/obesity and diet-related non-communicable diseases. Globally, it is now estimated that six out of every ten persons classified as obese, and four out of every five persons with diabetes, live in a LMIC.
This complex and evolving nutrition situation in LMICs makes the design of appropriate nutrition and agriculture interventions at a population-level more challenging.  At a country level, the first step towards effective intervention is having reliable data on which to base the design of programs and policies. At the core of this data need is reliable information on what people eat.
Intake is a Center for Dietary Assessment at FHI 360.  We aim to strengthen policies and programs to improve nutritional status by increasing the availability, quality, comparability, and use of reliable dietary data and metrics in LMICs. 
Intake produced the below video, in collaboration with Ensemble Media, Inc., to provide an overview of the changing nutrition situation in LMICs, and to highlight how dietary data can be used to inform the design of evidence-based nutrition and agriculture policies and programs in this context. The video is available with English, French, and Spanish sub-titles (see links below).