Food per Person

OWID presents work from many different people and organizations. When citing this entry, please also cite the original data source. This entry can be cited as:

Max Roser (2017) – ‘Food per Person’. Published online at Retrieved from: [Online Resource]

# Empirical View

# Inequality of Food Consumption in France and England

Before modern technology increased the productivity of the agricultural sector, food was very scarce in both England and France. In both countries the inequality in food consumption was very high, and it was only small share of the population that had enough to eat. As it is shown in the following graph, the highest decile consumed roughly three times as much much as the lowest decile. Fogel1 points out how grave the consequences for the poor were: ‘Individuals in the bottom 20 percent of the caloric distributions of France and England near the end of the eighteenth century lacked the energy for sustained work and were effectively excluded from the labor force. Moreover, even those who participated in the labor force had only relatively small amounts of energy for work.’

Inequality of food consumption – daily food consumption (in kcal) for men aged 20-39 at the end of the eighteenth century in France and England2

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# Improving Food Supply in Early Modernized Countries

As productivity increased, famines and the exclusion of the poor due to hunger and too little energy became a thing of the past in both France and England. The improving supply of food in both countries is shown in the following data visualization. In terms of calories, the average food supply in France more than doubled over the last 300 years. Fogel (2004)3, the original source for some of the presented data, brings the numbers in perspective: ‘the energy value of the typical diet in France at the start of the eighteenth century was as low as that of Rwanda in 1965, the most malnourished nation for that year in the tables of the World Bank’.

# Daily caloric intake per capita in European countries and the USA, 1700-2010 – Max Roser4

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# The Global Perspective on Food Supply

While the population in the early modernized countries consumed more than 2500 kcal on average by the turn from the 19th to the 20 century other world regions lagged behind. Goklany (1999) presents data taken from the FAO to give a global overview on food consumption since the 1930s. As we have seen before France – the highest series on the graph – has already left the hungry past behind. The other three countries for which we have data before 1960 are Brazil, China and India, and none of these countries managed to increase the food supply before 1960. But over the last six decades this has changed considerably, and all series presented in the graph are now trending upwards. This is an especially huge achievement as the population increased massively in our world, but that is the nature of productivity growth – while there are more and more people there is still more and more for each of them.

Daily food supplies for countries around the world, 1934/38 – 2002 – Goklany (1999)5


The most widely used data on food supply and consumption is published by the UN  Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). This data is annually available and is updated by the FAO but it only goes back until 1961. I have presented this data in the last graph. It shows that food supply has been almost constant in Oceania and Europe while it has been rising rapidly in the rest of the world. The rise in the poorer regions of the world means that in terms of food supply we are living in a more and more equal world. At the beginning of this entry we have seen the huge gap between the rich and the poor within countries. Now we see that, similarly to what has happened within countries, we are now experiencing a constantly decreasing inequality across the world. As we are certainly heading in the right direction, it is also true that we are surely not where we want to be. Technological progress, better institutions, research and education ended malnutrition in parts of the world – and this is certainly not a small achievement – but we have to continuously improve to end malnutrition for everyone.

World maps of food supply (kcal per capita per day), 1961-20096
World maps of minimum and average dietary energy requirement (MDER and ADER)7
# KCal per capita by world region, 1961-20118


# Data Quality & Definition

The following definitions are quoted from The State of Food Insecurity in the World:9

  • Dietary energy requirement (DER) – The amount of dietary energy required by an individual to maintain body functions, health and normal activity.
  • Minimum dietary energy requirement (MDER) – In a specified age/sex category, the minimum amount of dietary energy per person that is considered adequate to meet the energy needs at a minimum acceptable BMI of an individual engaged in low physical activity. If referring to an entire population, the minimum energy requirement is the weighted average of the minimum energy requirements of the different age/sex groups. It is expressed as kilocalories per person per day.
  • Maximum dietary energy requirement – In a specified age and sex group, the amount of dietary energy per person that is considered adequate to meet the energy needs for heavy activity and good health. In an entire population, the maximum energy requirement is the weighted average of the maximum energy requirements of the different age and sex groups in the population. This is expressed in kilocalories per person per day.10
  • Dietary energy supply (DES) – Food available for human consumption, expressed in kilocalories per person per day (kcal/person/day). At country level, it is calculated as the food remaining for human use after deduction of all non-food utilizations (i.e. food = production + imports + stock withdrawals − exports − industrial use − animal feed – seed – wastage − additions to stock). Wastage includes losses of usable products occurring along distribution chains from farm gate (or port of import) up to the retail level.
  • Dietary energy supply adequacy – Dietary energy supply as a percentage of the average dietary energy requirement.
  • Dietary energy intake – The energy content of food consumed.


# Data Sources

# Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Food Supply database
  • Data: Covers food commodities that have been converted back into primary equivalents (Quantity, Dietary Energy, Proteins, Fats, Totals and per Capita). Also includes ‘Per Capita Food Supply Variability’
  • Geographical coverage: Global – by country and world region
  • Time span: Since 1961
  • Available at: Online at FAOSTAT here
  • Detailed food consumption data is available in the FAO Food Balance Sheet data. This data is described in FAO (2001) – ‘Food Balance Sheets – A Handbook’ (online here).
  • The FAO data is also available through Gapminder where the data can be plotted against a second variable.

# The Complex Emergency Database (CE-DAT)
  • Data: Mortality and malnutrition data – over 2,000 surveys and 20,000 health indicators
  • Geographical coverage: 51 countries
  • Time span: 1998 to present
  • Available at: Online here

# The History Database of the Global Environment (HYDE)
  • Data: Total consumption of cereals (wheat and rye) in Europe, in kg/cap and kcal/cap, and Food consumption in the USSR.
  • Geographical coverage: Europe and the former USSR
  • Time span: 1909-1984
  • Available at: Online here

# Inequality of Food Consumption

# Food Security Indicators of the FAO
  • Data: Coefficient of variation (and skewness) of habitual caloric consumption distribution
  • Geographical coverage: Developing countries only.
  • Time span: Since 1990.
  • Available at: Online here.