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

The increase in dietary fat supply worldwide exceeds the increase in dietary protein supply. The average global supply of fat has increased by 20 g per capita per day since 1967-1969. This increase in availability has been most pronounced in the Americas, East Asia, and the European Community. The proportion of energy contributed by dietary fats exceeds 30% in the industrialized regions, and in nearly all other regions this share is increasing.

The fat-to-energy ratio (FER) is defined as the percentage of energy derived from fat in the total supply of energy (in kcal). Country-specific analysis of FAO data for 1988-1990 (5) found a range for the FER of 7-46%. A total of 19 countries fell below the minimum recommendation of 15% dietary energy supply from fat, the majority of these being in sub-Saharan Africa and the remainder in South Asia. In contrast, 24 countries were above the maximum recommendation of 35%, the majority of these countries being in North America and Western Europe. It is useful to note that limitations of the Food Balance Sheet data may contribute much of this variation in the FER between countries. For instance, in countries such as Malaysia with abundant availability of vegetable oils at low prices, Food Balance Sheet data may not reflect real consumption at the individual household level.

Rising incomes in the developing world have also led to an increase in the availability and consumption of energy-dense high-fat diets. Food balance data can be used to examine the shift in the proportion of energy from fat over time and its relationship to increasing incomes (6).

In 1961-1963, a diet providing 20% of energy from fat was associated only with countries having at least a per capita gross national product of US$ 1475. By 1990, however, even poor countries having a gross national product of only US$ 750 per capita had access to a similar diet comprising 20% of energy from fat. (Both values of gross national product are given in 1993 US$.) This change was mainly the result of an increase in the consumption of vegetable fats by poor countries, with smaller increases occurred in middle-income and high-income countries. By 1990, vegetable fats accounted for a greater proportion of dietary energy than animal fats for countries in the lowest per capita income category. Changes in edible vegetable oil supply, in prices and in consumption equally affected rich and poor countries, although the net impact was relatively much greater in low-income countries. An equally large and important shift in the proportion of energy from added sugars in the diets of low-income countries was also a feature of the nutrition transition (1).

Examinations of the purchasing habits of people, aimed at understanding the relationship between level of education or income and the different amounts or types of commodities purchased at different times were also revealing. Research conducted in China shows that there have been profound shifts in purchasing practices in relation to income over the past decade. These analyses show how extra income in China affects poor people and rich people in a differential manner, enhancing the fat intake of the poor more than that of the rich (7).

A variable proportion of these fat calories are provided by saturated fatty acids. Only in the two of the most affluent regions (i.e. in parts of North America and Europe) is the intake of saturated fat at or above 10% of energy intake level. In other less affluent regions, the proportion of dietary energy contributed by saturated fatty acids is lower, ranging from 5% to 8%, and generally not changing much over time. National dietary surveys conducted in some countries confirm these data. The ratio of dietary fat from animal sources to total fat is a key indicator, since foods from animal sources are high in saturated fat. Data sets used to calculate country-specific FERs can also be used to calculate proportions of animal fat in total fat. Such analysis indicated that the proportion of animal fat in total fat was lower than 10% in some countries (Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, Nigeria, Sao Tome and Principe, and Sierra Leone), while it is above 75% in some other countries (Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Mongolia, Poland and Uruguay). These findings are not strictly divided along economic lines, as not all of the countries in the high range represent the most affluent countries. Country-specific food availability and cultural dietary preferences and norms to some extent determine these patterns.

The types of edible oils used in developing countries are also changing with the increasing use of hardened margarines (rich in trans fatty acids) that do not need to be refrigerated. Palm oil is becoming an increasingly important edible oil in the diets of much of South-East Asia and is likely to be a major source in the coming years. Currently, palm oil consumption is low and the FER ranges between 15% and 18%. At this low level of consumption, the saturated fatty acid content of the diet comprises only 4% to 8%. Potential developments in the edible oil sector could affect all stages of the oil production process from plant breeding to processing methods, including the blending of oils aimed at producing edible oils that have a healthy fatty acid composition.

Olive oil is an important edible oil consumed largely in the Mediterranean region. Its production has been driven by rising demand, which has increasingly shifted olive cultivation from traditional farms to more intensive forms of cultivation. There is some concern that the intensive cultivation of olives may have adverse environmental impacts, such as soil erosion and desertification (8). However, agricultural production methods are being developed to ensure less harmful impacts on the environment.

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

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