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Urbanization and the Nutrition Transition


Popkin, Barry M. (2000). Urbanization and the Nutrition Transition.. Garrett, James L. & Ruel, Marie T. (Eds.) (pp. Brief 7). Washington: International Food Policy Research Institute.


Increasing urbanization in the developing world has brought a remarkably rapid shift toward a high incidence of obesity and noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes and coronary problems, at a time when large segments of the population still face undernutrition and poverty-related diseases. Obesity and its related diseases, for example, affect 25-50 percent of the population in countries as disparate as Kuwait, Mexico, Thailand, and Tunisia. This “nutrition transition” - a term used to describe shirts in diet, physical activity, health, and nutrition - can be traced to higher incomes, the influence of mass media and food marketing, and a range of changes in the nature of work and leisure.
Where a person stands in the nutrition transition depends on how far that person has moved away from a traditional diet and toward a diet common in the West, with all the accompanying changes in physical activity and body composition. According to this qualitative measure of transition, urban areas throughout the developing world are much further along in the process than rural areas. On a regional basis, most Latin American and Caribbean countries and selected countries in North Africa, the Middle East, and East Asia have shifted the most in nutritional status and dietary and activity patterns. The most promising policy option for remedying the ill effects of this transition appears to be a combination of price policies, education, and specific program actions at the school level.

Reference Type

Book Section

Year Published


Series Title

2020 Brief


Popkin, Barry M.