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Study Finds Little Change in N. Korean Diet Over 50 Years

  • Eunjung Cho

FILE - A North Korean boy peeps over his serving of noodles at a restaurant in Pyongyang, Sept. 1, 2014.

FILE - A North Korean boy peeps over his serving of noodles at a restaurant in Pyongyang, Sept. 1, 2014.

The North Korean diet has changed little over the past 50 years, according to a study of U.N. data by the Washington, D.C.-based magazine National Geographic.

The magazine analyzed dietary changes from 1961 to 2011 in 22 countries, including the United States and the two Koreas. On average, an adult in North Korea consumed about 2,103 calories per day in 2011, only a slight climb from 1,878 per day in 1961.

That is significantly lower than the daily caloric intake of 2,500 a day suggested by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

The data also suggest that the average North Korean diet remains not only low in calories, but also unbalanced.

North Koreans eat the most grain-heavy diet of the 22 countries surveyed. North Koreans in 1961 derived more than 70 percent of their entire caloric intake from single grains, such as rice, wheat and maize. The percentage dipped only to 61 percent five decades later.

Another problem with the North Korean diet is meat consumption, which plunged during famine in the mid-1990s and never fully recovered. An average North Korean consumed 141 grams of meat a day in 1989, but the figure stood at 67 grams in 2011, after years of famines and food shortages.

Meanwhile, the South Korean diet, which was similar to the North Korean diet in 1961, has changed dramatically over five decades.

The daily caloric intake rose from 2,140 to 3,329 per person, while the percentage of grains in the diet dropped from 82 percent to 43 percent. The consumption of meat increased from 2 percent to 12 percent.

On average, Americans ate the most among the surveyed countries, taking in 3,641 calories per day in 2011. The global average caloric intake stood at 2,870 calories.

Jee Abbey Lee contributed to this report, which was produced in collaboration with the VOA Korea service.

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