Forest of the ocean: Seaweed consumption in China driven by increasing urbanisation and dietary knowledge
Conducted by researchers at the Huazhong Agricultural University in China, they found households living in urban areas consumed more seaweeds on average than those in rural areas.
In addition, residents with higher dietary knowledge were likely to consume more seaweed.
Edible seaweed is a sustainable and nutrient-rich food, containing dietary fiber, proteins, minerals, and vitamins. It also sequesters large amounts of carbon in the ocean, combating climate change.
Many studies on seaweed focus on nutrition, disease, and aquaculture, so this is the first study on seaweed consumption in China, focusing on the effects of urbanisation and dietary knowledge.
The data used in this study are derived from the China Health and Nutrition Survey for the years of 2004, 2006 and 2009.
Total seaweed consumption increased from approximately 59 g/month/person in 2004 to 94 g/month/person in 2009.
Published in the Foods journals, researchers said this study could help guide policies on promoting seaweed consumption in China.
Among urban residents, the average seaweed consumed at home was 78.09 g/month/person, and the average seaweed consumed away from home was 27.54 g/month/person.
For rural residents, the average seaweed consumed at home was 48.80 g/month/person, and the average seaweed consumed away from home was 9.27 g/month/person. .
China is experiencing rapid urbanisation, which has improved the food accessibility of residents.
For instance, only coastal residents had relatively easy access to seaweed, but now, seaweeds are no longer restricted by region, and even inland residents can buy a variety of seaweed at any time.
“Residents living in urban areas or areas with high urbanisation development index (UDI) more easily access seaweeds through markets than do their counterparts,” researchers said.
The results also found that residents with relatively high dietary knowledge tend to consume more seaweed, which is widely recognised as a nutritious food.
“Residents with relatively high dietary knowledge normally pay more attention to dietary nutrition intake and prefer nutritious food when they have sufficient purchasing power.”
Several other factors such as age, work status, and household income, also have significant effects on seaweed consumption.
In the study, it was revealed that young people appeared to consume more seaweed than elderly.
“This finding also implies that while seaweed consumption in China shows an increasing trend, population ageing in China may hinder the increase, which is similar to the research results that the ageing population has a negative impact on China’s meat consumption,” researchers said.
In addition, residents living in a family where food-decision makers have jobs will consume more seaweed. “This result can probably be explained by the time constraint of food-decision makers, as seaweeds are relatively easy to cook, thereby saving time for cooking.”
As residents’ income and work time increase, more people tend to have dinner outside of the home. One of the strengths in this study was taking into account seaweed consumed away from home, “If we ignore it, the results are likely to be biased,” researchers added.
The increases in seaweed consumed away from home could be contributed by its growing use in fast food, such as sushi and seaweed soup, to save time and fit meals into a fast-paced life.
Seaweed consumption in China is still relatively low, compared to Japan and Korea with average intakes around 120 to 255 g/month/person.
With rapid urbanisation, the demand for seaweed in China is expected to significantly increase.
However, this increased demand may bring new challenges for domestic seaweed farming and international seaweed markets.
In addition, special attention must be given to the safety regulation of edible seaweed since they may contain excessive heavy metals due to ocean pollution.
“Future research needs to update data to investigate the recent trend of seaweed consumption in different regions of China and consider the impact of seaweed snacks on seaweed consumption,” added the researchers.
“The Impacts of Urbanization and Dietary Knowledge on Seaweed Consumption in China”
Authors: Jingsi Peng, et al.