Monitoring a population’s dietary intake is important to identify patterns of food and nutrient intake. The survey showed that the average daily consumption of all meats was 70.9 g/d across all-aged populations, which aligned with the daily recommended intake of 40–75 g/d by the DGC (2016)(18). However, the consumption of male people aged 19–60 was generally over recommended (> 80 g/d). The national bureau of statistics reported that the average meat intake increased from 69.9 g/d in 2000 to 102.7 g/d in 2014 for urban residents, and from 50.1 g/d to 80 g/d for rural residents(20). By contrast, our study reported 79.0 g/d and 65.8 g/d for urban and rural respondents in 2014, respectively. The reason might be that our sample included younger and elder age groups whose consumption was lower, and covered different geographic regions.
Red meats like beef, pork, and lamb are rich in protein, energy, fat, and trans-fatty acid (TFA)(21). The World Cancer Research Fund advocates reducing the intake of red meat to less than 70 grams per day, or 500 g per week (cooked weight)(22), and avoiding processed meats such as ham, bacon, salami, hot dogs, and sausages(23). We found that males aged 19–44 generally consumed more than 70 g/d of red meat. Thus, younger and middle-aged males should be wary of exceeding the recommended limit. Besides, our study showed that the mean daily consumption of processed meat products was about 17.7 g/d (including barbecued meat). This estimate should be higher due to the presence of the recall bias, however. Previous research have demonstrated that an intake of 50 g/d of processed meats would increase the risk of cancer, diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke(24–27), and even all-cause mortality(28). As the estimator was not meeting the standard requirements, it is imperative to reduce the consumption of processed meat as possible. In general, the western population eat more meat than the Chinese population; A German study revealed that adult men consumed 105 grams of meat products per day and women consumed 64 grams per day in 2006(29). In UK, the mean daily consumption of meat products was more than 1.5 times higher than that in Germany(30). In our study, adult men consumed 80.7 grams per day and women consumed 65.5 grams per day. The higher absolute consumption of western males in meat and meat products is comparable to that of the westerner dietary pattern(31, 32). However, the difference for females is much smaller.
There is a general consensus that aquatic foods are healthier than those of red meats(33–36), such as low in saturated fats and cholesterol. It was found that the mean daily consumption of aquatic products was 48.0 g, which barely meet the recommendation according to the DGC. Importantly, intake among elder people and children was insufficient (< 40 g/d). The Germany food consumption survey indicated that adult men consumed 28 g/d of aquatic products and women consumed 22 g/d(29). In our study, men consumed 51.8 g/d and women consumed 44.2 g/d, which almost doubled the amount consumed by the German cohort. Considering that fish is a healthier substitute for red meat, we believe that there still need room to promote intake of fish among Chinese residents, especially for adolescents and the old. In addition, our research showed that females consumed less red meat than males did, while they ate similar quantities of white meat. Therefore, women in China appeared to make wiser food choices, and this conclusion is consistent with the German study(29).
As for the association with region and socio-economic status for aquatic and meat products consumption, urban residents and people with a higher SES consumed more meat and aquatic products than did rural residents and those with a lower SES, and they mostly consumed much more beef, and mutton, and more white meat such as crustaceans and poultry. Therefore, socio-economic status and demographic factors might be key drivers of dietary choices. Although males with a higher SES and income generally consumed more red meat (more than 70 g/d ) in our study, people of this class exhibited some more comprehensive dietary preferences(37). Similar patterns regarding SES and dietary behavior were also observed in European studies. A study from Dutch National Food Consumption Surveys suggested that dietary intake among subjects with higher SES tended to be closer to the guidelines of the Netherlands Food and Nutrition Council, and the findings was relatively stable throughout the decades assessed in the study(38). The results suggested that with increasing economic income, improved education levels, and increased recognition, the pursuit of a healthy lifestyle has become more popular(39).
One strength of our study is the large and rigorously selected population sample of 24,106 participants which is representative of the general Chinese population. In addition, we employed three recognized factors to further examine the relationship between SES and food consumption. Furthermore, there was no evidence of serious non-response bias, although dietary surveys inevitably favor willing participants whose diets may be extreme, or variable across days. Our consumption data were primarily based on 3-day, 24-h food recall, and therefore may not represent long-term dietary habits. However, at the national level, our study still provides a reliable assessment of the consumption of meats and aquatic products, and is important for international comparisons and investigation of the changes over time.
Some limitations of the present study should be considered. First, recall bias was inevitable because of the use of a diet history interview and its questionable reliability(40). Second, under-reporting, a common limitation based on history dietary assessment, could lead to measurement bias. The tendency for respondents to misreport the consumption of socially undesirable food choices has been identified in several studies in European countries(41–43).
In conclusion, the present study revealed the pattern of meats and aquatic products consumption in a nationally representative sample of the Chinese population. Differences in consumption among different population groups (sex, age, region and SES) were reported. Understanding the trends and determinants of dietary intake could guide our efforts to reduce the burden of chronic diseases in China. Further research based on dynamic dietary patterns, with the aim of reducing the consumption of animal foods and promoting the consumption of more aquatic products, may help identify healthy food patterns for the general population.