From corn to popcorn? Urbanization and dietary change: Evidence from rural-urban migrants in Tanzania

Lara Cockx, Liesbeth Colen, Joachim De Weerdt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


There is rising concern that the ongoing wave of urbanization will have profound effects on eating patterns and increase the risk of nutrition-related non-communicable diseases. Yet, our understanding of urbanization as a driver of changes in food consumption remains limited. Data from the Tanzania National Panel Survey, which tracked out-migrating respondents, allow us to compare individuals’ dietary patterns before and after they relocated from rural to urban areas and assess whether those changes differ from household members who stayed behind or moved to a different rural area. Our study shows that moving to an urban area does not have any significant effect on the intake of fats, animal-source foods, and dietary diversity. However, individuals who moved to urban areas do experience a more pronounced shift away from the consumption of traditional staples, and towards high-sugar, more conveniently consumed and prepared foods. These effects occur across the whole spectrum of urban locations, ranging from smaller secondary towns to large cities. Further exploring the factors underlying these changes in dietary patterns upon moving, we demonstrate that – depending on the food category considered – a substantial part of the impact of relocating to an urban area is related to the transition out of farming, differences in food prices, and especially income changes. The latter appears to explain the more pronounced growth of unhealthy food consumption after rural-urban migration. As such, health concerns over diets can be expected to spread to less urbanized areas as soon as income growth takes off there. Our findings call for more in-depth research on the extent and consequences of changes in diets related to living in more urbanized areas that may contribute to improved projections on food demand and help to improve health and food and nutrition security policies as well as agricultural and trade strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)140-159
Number of pages20
JournalWorld Development
Publication statusPublished - Oct 1 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Dietary change
  • Rural-urban migration
  • Sub-Saharan Africa
  • Tanzania
  • Urbanization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics and Econometrics

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