Analyses of economic and food availability data for 1962-1994 reveal a major shift in the structure of the global diet marked by an uncoupling of the classic relationship between incomes and fat intakes. Global availability of cheap vegetable oils and fats has resulted in greatly increased fat consumption among low-income nations. Consequently, the nutrition transition now occurs at lower levels of the gross national product than previously, and is accelerated further by high urbanization rates. Data from Asian nations, where diet structure is rapidly changing, suggest that diets higher in fats and sweeteners are also more diverse and more varied. Given that preferences for palatable diets are a universal human trait, fat consumption may be governed not by physiological mechanisms but by the amount of fat available in the food supply. Whereas economic development has led to improved food security and better health, adverse health effects of the nutrition transition include growing rates of childhood obesity. The implications of these trends are explored.