Small diet change may lead to large political turnover, says study

Good nutrition

In a recent study, researchers show that a change in people’s eating habits could serve as a predictor of impending political change. Good nutrition can speed up the transition to democracy.

Researchers from the National Research University Higher School of Economics made this conclusion based on a cross-country comparative study using data on 157.

They found that a richer diet is associated with an increase in the middle class, which tends towards economic and political independence and democracy-fostering values.

The findings were presented during the regional conference of the World Association for Public Opinion Research.

They focused on a type of diet common among western Europeans, with plenty of meat, dairy products, confectionery, alcohol, and other foods available in sufficient quantities to most people.

Contrary to previous findings, researchers showed that improved nutrition precedes democracy rather than the other way around.

Once people start consuming a wide variety of foods with an emphasis on animal protein, instead of mostly bread and cereals, democratic change is likely to follow.

There are a few reasons why people’s diet is associated with political change.

First, consistent availability of high-quality food contributes to a sense of existential security. Having enough good food – rather than just having more money – is the number one reason why societies begin to feel safer.

People in many cultures pray before meals, giving thanks to God for the food, but there are virtually no societies where people pray before payday.

Once people start feeling safe, the entire society tends towards emancipative values making it more likely to stand up for individual rights compared to a society concerned with survival.

Second, food security makes people less dependent on politicians and power hierarchies. In contrast, in poorer countries, politicians often buy public votes in exchange for food.

And third, good nutrition is essential for good health and thus can have important social and biological implications. Healthier populations tend to be better educated and more active in terms of political engagement.

According to the researchers, the above findings may have important implications for development assistance: if good nutrition is key to establishing democracy, then perhaps humanitarian aid may be preferable to financial assistance for poorer countries.

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News Source: National Research University Higher School of Economics.
Figure legend: This image is for illustrative purposes only.