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3. Global and regional food consumption patterns and trends

3.1 Introduction

Promoting healthy diets and lifestyles to reduce the global burden of noncommunicable diseases requires a multisectoral approach involving the various relevant sectors in societies. The agriculture and food sector figures prominently in this enterprise and must be given due importance in any consideration of the promotion of healthy diets for individuals and population groups. Food strategies must not merely be directed at ensuring food security for all, but must also achieve the consumption of adequate quantities of safe and good quality foods that together make up a healthy diet. Any recommendation to that effect will have implications for all components in the food chain. It is therefore useful at this juncture to examine trends in consumption patterns worldwide and deliberate on the potential of the food and agriculture sector to meet the demands and challenges posed by this report.

Economic development is normally accompanied by improvements in a country’s food supply and the gradual elimination of dietary deficiencies, thus improving the overall nutritional status of the country’s population. Furthermore, it also brings about qualitative changes in the production, processing, distribution and marketing of food. Increasing urbanization will also have consequences for the dietary patterns and lifestyles of individuals, not all of which are positive. Changes in diets, patterns of work and leisure - often referred to as the “nutrition transition” - are already contributing to the causal factors underlying noncommunicable diseases even in the poorest countries. Moreover, the pace of these changes seems to be accelerating, especially in the low-income and middle-income countries.

The dietary changes that characterize the “nutrition transition” include both quantitative and qualitative changes in the diet. The adverse dietary changes include shifts in the structure of the diet towards a higher energy density diet with a greater role for fat and added sugars in foods, greater saturated fat intake (mostly from animal sources), reduced intakes of complex carbohydrates and dietary fibre, and reduced fruit and vegetable intakes (1). These dietary changes are compounded by lifestyle changes that reflect reduced physical activity at work and during leisure time (2). At the same time, however, poor countries continue to face food shortages and nutrient inadequacies.

Diets evolve over time, being influenced by many factors and complex interactions. Income, prices, individual preferences and beliefs, cultural traditions, as well as geographical, environmental, social and economic factors all interact in a complex manner to shape dietary consumption patterns. Data on the national availability of the main food commodities provide a valuable insight into diets and their evolution over time. FAO produces annual Food Balance Sheets which provide national data on food availability (for almost all commodities and for nearly all countries). Food Balance Sheets give a complete picture of supply (including production, imports, stock changes and exports) and utilization (including final demand in the form of food use and industrial non-food use, intermediate demand such as animal feed and seed use, and waste) by commodity. From these data, the average per capita supply of macronutrients (i.e. energy, protein, fats) can be derived for all food commodities. Although such average per capita supplies are derived from national data, they may not correspond to actual per capita availability, which is determined by many other factors such as inequality in access to food. Likewise, these data refer to “average food available for consumption”, which, for a number of reasons (for example, waste at the household level), is not equal to average food intake or average food consumption. In the remainder of this chapter, therefore, the terms “food consumption” or “food intake” should be read as “food available for consumption”.

Actual food availability may vary by region, socioeconomic level and season. Certain difficulties are encountered when estimating trade, production and stock changes on an annual scale. Hence three-year averages are calculated in order to reduce errors. The FAO statistical database (FAOSTAT), being based on national data, does not provide information on the distribution of food within countries, or within communities and households.

3.2 Developments in the availability of dietary energy

Food consumption expressed in kilocalories (kcal) per capita per day is a key variable used for measuring and evaluating the evolution of the global and regional food situation. A more appropriate term for this variable would be “national average apparent food consumption” since the data come from national Food Balance Sheets rather than from food consumption surveys. Analysis of FAOSTAT data shows that dietary energy measured in kcals per capita per day has been steadily increasing on a worldwide basis; availability of calories per capita from the mid-1960s to the late 1990s increased globally by approximately 450 kcal per capita per day and by over 600 kcal per capita per day in developing countries (see Table 1). This change has not, however, been equal across regions. The per capita supply of calories has remained almost stagnant in sub-Saharan Africa and has recently fallen in the countries in economic transition. In contrast, the per capita supply of energy has risen dramatically in East Asia (by almost 1000 kcal per capita per day, mainly in China) and in the Near East/North Africa region (by over 700 kcal per capita per day).

Table 1. Global and regional per capita food consumption (kcal per capita per day)

Region

1964 - 1966

1974 - 1976

1984 - 1986

1997 - 1999

2015

2030

World

2358

2435

2655

2803

2940

3050

Developing countries

2054

2152

2450

2681

2850

2980

Near East and North Africa

2290

2591

2953

3006

3090

3170

Sub-Saharan Africaa

2058

2079

2057

2195

2360

2540

Latin America and the Caribbean

2393

2546

2689

2824

2980

3140

East Asia

1957

2105

2559

2921

3060

3190

South Asia

2017

1986

2205

2403

2700

2900

Industrialized countries

2947

3065

3206

3380

3440

3500

Transition countries

3222

3385

3379

2906

3060

3180

a Excludes South Africa.

Source: reproduced, with minor editorial amendments from reference 3 with the permission of the publisher.

3. Global and regional food consumption patterns and trends: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9 | Next page

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