More forest patches, healthier diets

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CIFOR

Poor diets have become a major global health concern, as people with overweight or micronutrient deficiencies have come to outnumber those who are hungry or under-nourished, according to a leading scientist.

Forests have been observed to improve the quality of diets among tropical rural populations, but until recently, there was not much evidence to show how.

As it happens, tree cover matters, but so does the size and arrangement of forest patches across landscapes, according to new findings by the University of British Columbia (UBC), the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and partner organizations.

“The diversity of peoples’ diet and their likelihood of eating fruits improves the greater the tree cover is, and the higher the number of forest patches is” says lead author Laura Vang Rasmussen from UBC’s Department of Forest and Conservation Sciences. Fruit and vegetable consumption are important indicators of varied, well-balanced diets, but people do not eat enough of them, especially in Africa.

To better understand how forests patterns affect what people eat, researchers selected five countries with tropical forests — Tanzania, Uganda, Nigeria, Malawi and Ethiopia — where there is geo-localized data on household food consumption. The results come from linking World Bank surveys with information on forest cover and configuration from global datasets.

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