60-Second Science

Lower Diet Diversity Threatens Crops and Us

More of the world's population is eating the same stuff, meaning more monocultural crops at risk for disease and less gut microbial diversity, a health problem for humans. Cynthia Graber reports 

Diets all around the world have become increasingly similar. That’s not good news for either human health or for crop health, according to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. [Colin K. Khoury et al, Increasing homogeneity in global food supplies and the implications for food security

Scientists analyzed diet trends over the past 50 years. Overall, people are eating more, and are getting more of those calories from meat, oil and grains.

But the diversity has gone down. Wheat, rice and corn have gotten even more important. Soybeans and sunflower and palm oil have also become larger players. Meanwhile, crops such as sorgum, rye and cassava have dropped in relative importance.

The authors say the trend towards the Western diet contributes to obesity and heart disease—as well as a diminished diversity in oral and gut microbes, which is harmful to health.

Perhaps equally important, the reliance on a small group of foods puts the crops themselves at risk from diseases or climate change.

Study co-author Andy Jarvis says that a more diverse global food system is critical. Quote, “This is the best way, not only to combat hunger, malnutrition, and over-nutrition, but also to protect global food supplies against the impacts of global climate change.”

—Cynthia Graber

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]


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