Chapter 4 : Global trends in the availability of edible fats and oils

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Current consumption of fat
Factors explaining consumption trends
Shifts in fat consumption

Consumers are often attracted to foods which have textures and flavours derived from fat. Although there are differences according to region, season and food habits, consumers generally increase the proportion of fat in their diet as their incomes rise. The increase in the quantity and change in the quality of fats and oils in the diet have important consequences for nutrition.

In discussing global trends in the availability of dietary fats, the figures in this chapter refer to the amounts of fats and oils which are available for human consumption. These figures are derived from FAO Food Balance Sheets which are prepared on the basis of statistics related to production, trade, stock and non-food use.

Current consumption of fat

In 1990, the amount of total dietary fat that was available worldwide was estimated to be 68 grams per caput per day. However, this average figure does not reveal the large disparities among geographic regions. While in Asia and Africa the amount of total fat available was less than 50 grams per caput per day, in South America it was 74 grams per caput per day. In the former USSR, the amount of total fat available was 107 grams per caput per day. In North and Central America, the total amount of fat available was 126 grams per caput per day while in Europe it was 143 grams per caput per day. Finally, 121 grams per caput per day were available in Oceania (FAO, 1993b).

When countries are categorized by level of economic development, the differences in the availability of total fat among groups appear more distinctly (Table 4.1). In developed countries, the daily per caput availability of fat was 128 grams while in developing countries it did not exceed 49 grams. In Africa (excluding Egypt, Libya and South Africa), the availability of fats and oils is low, while in North America, the level of fat available is high.

Within these two economic groups, there are large differences in total fat availability among regions and individual countries. Countries such as Rwanda, Cambodia and Bangladesh have less than 20 grams per caput per day while Ireland, Denmark, Luxembourg and Belgium have more than 170 grams per caput per day (Ibid.).

Availability of fats and fat energy ratio by economic group (1961-1990)

Region Fat g/caput/day Increase between 61 and 90 Mean fat energy ratio
1961 1990 % 1961 1990
DEVELOPING 28 50 78 13 18
Africa 38 43 13 16 18
Far East 22 45 105 11 16
Near East 46 72 56 19 22
Latin America 51 75 47 20 25
DEVELOPED 93 128 38 28 34
former USSR 69 107 55 20 28
Oceania 125 138 10 36 36
Europe 104 143 37 32 37
North America 124 151 22 37 37

Source: FAO Food balance sheets, Agrostat PC, 1993

A description of the situation in different countries during the period 1988-90 is given in Table 4.2. Seventy-two countries, representing more than 63 percent of the total population for which data exist, had less than 60 grams of fat available for individuals on a daily basis.

Total fats available per caput/day and mean fat energy ratio in 165 countries (1088-90)

Number of countries Inhabitants number*1000: Class of total fats per cap/day 88-90 Mean fat energy ratio
9 299,164 <30 g 10%
63 3,035,746 30-59.9 g 18%
64 1,197,754 60-119.9 g 27%
29 752,318 120 g and + 38%

Source: FAO Food balance sheets and population, Agrostat PC, 1993

The Fat Energy Ratio (FER) is the proportion of dietary energy derived from total fat. Among individual countries, the average FER ranges from 7 to 46 percent. The means of FERs for countries in different regions of the world are shown in Tables 4.1 and 4.2.

Survey data on food consumption tend to confirm these trends and patterns of use of dietary fats and in some cases, demonstrate even more extreme situations. In Viet Nam, for instance, the average consumption of fats and oils was found to be very low (FAO, 1990). The FER calculated on the basis of consumption surveys was 6 percent while it was 11 percent according to the Food Balance Sheets. In some areas of Viet Nam (such as the "Highlands") data from these surveys indicate that the consumption of fat and the FER are even lower. On the other hand, the MONICA project in Germany indicated that the FER for men was more than 50 percent, if alcohol is excluded from the energy breakdown (Coiling et al., 1989).

Factors explaining consumption trends

FAO Food Balance Sheets show that the availability of fat for human consumption has increased steadily in both developed and developing countries (Figure 4.1). From 1961 to 1990, global availability of fat increased from 49 to 68 grams per caput per day. In developed countries, the amount of fat available grew from 93 to 128 grams while it increased from 28 to 49 grams in developing countries. Even though the increase in fat availability was twice as high in developing countries as in developed ones, there was still a large difference in the availability of fat according to levels of economic development.

FIGURE 4.1 : Availability of fats per caput/day in developed and developing countries* (1961-1990)

Within developing regions, the rates of increase have varied (Table 4.1). In 1961, the fat availability in the Far East was lower than in Africa. Since then, the availability of fat has increased sharply and it is now higher than in Africa. The availability of fat was high in Oceania in 1961 and the increase has been minor. Fat availability was low in Africa 30 years ago and the increase in availability has been slow.

Income. The first factor which explains these changes is income, the basic indicator of economic development. The availability of animal and vegetable fats is closely linked to income (Perisse, Sizaret and Francois, 1969). The influence of the Gross National Product per caput on food availability in 134 countries is illustrated in Figure 4.2.

There was a steady increase in fat availability in countries with incomes ranging from US$150 to US$350 per year. For those countries with yearly per caput incomes between US$350 and US$7 000, there was a sharp increase in the amount of total fat available, while the availability of fat remained at the same level for countries with individual incomes above US$7 000. In countries with per caput incomes under US$ 7 000, consumption of both vegetable and animal fats increased at similar rates. Beyond US$ 900, the availability of animal fats increased rapidly. The availability of vegetable fats actually declined when per caput incomes exceeded US$7 000. Food consumption surveys confirm this trend especially in countries such as Bangladesh (Hassan and Ahmad, 1992) or Brazil [Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estadistica (IBGE), 1978] where GNP/caput is low. In these countries, poverty is the main factor limiting fat consumption, especially that derived from animals.

FIGURE 4.2 : Fat available by income per person in 134 countries (1989)

Urban life-styles. Urbanization is strongly associated with the increasing consumption of fat in developing countries. This a general phenomenon that is part of an overall change of food habits. In Bangladesh, for instance, the consumption of fat in urban areas is eight times higher than in rural areas (Hassan and Ahmad, 1992). The same is true in Niger, where consumption in urban areas is two or three times higher than in rural ones, depending on the season [Comite Inter-etat de Lutte contre la Secheresse dans le Sahel (CILSS), 1991]. In Niger, the FER is 7 percent among people living in rural areas, while it is 14 percent among those who have recently come from rural areas to urban areas. It is 19 percent among individuals permanently living in Niamey, Niger's capital (Ibid.). A survey carried out in Brazil in 1974-75 (IBGE, 1978) indicated a clear association between urbanization and fat consumption independent of climatic regions (Figure 4.3). The increased FER which is commonly seen as areas become cities is striking since energy intakes tend to decrease with urbanization, due to lower levels of physical activity.

Other factors. The physical environment, local availability of fats and oils, food habits and the level of education are other factors which affect the level of fat consumption. Sociological and individual factors also affect fat consumption. Food Balance Sheets indicate that during the last decade, a decrease in the availability of fats of animal origin, particularly in many developed countries in North Europe, North America and Oceania began. Food consumption surveys confirm this evolution (Stephen and Wald, 1990; Den Hartog, 1992).

FIGURE 4.3 : Fat energy ratio in rural, suburban and metropolitan areas of 5 Brazilian regions

Analyses of fat consumption data show that in the most developed countries individuals belonging to the lowest socio-economic groups consume more fatty foods (Nova Scotia Department of Health, 1993). Studies show that men consume more fatty foods than women and young people eat more fatty foods than the elderly (Hulshof e! al., 1991; Read et al., 1989; Popkin, Haines and Patterson, 1992; Nova Scotia Department of Health, 1993).

All of these factors affect the total quantity of fat consumed. Furthermore, in developed countries food choices are increasingly linked to the type of fat contained in food.

Shifts in fat consumption

According to FAO Food Balance Sheets (FAO, 1993b), visible fats provide nearly half of the available fat in the world (Table 4.3). Furthermore, oils of vegetable origin contribute a markedly higher percentage of visible fat than those of animal origin. The percentage of visible fats of animal origin is higher in developed countries, except North America (Canada and USA). From data describing 165 countries, the availability of animal fats has decreased or remained at the same level in 102 countries. In the United Arab Emirates, Norway, Finland, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, Australia, Denmark, the United States and the Netherlands the consumption of animal fats has been reduced. This trend became sharper at end of the 1980s. In contrast, the sharpest increase (8 to 17 grams per caput per day) has been recorded in the eastern European countries, Cuba, Belgium, Luxembourg, Italy, France and Cape Verde.

Worldwide, vegetable sources supplied 24 grams of oil per caput per day in 1990, while animals provided 6 grams of visible fat per caput per day. Out of the 165 countries, all but 12 countries have experienced increases in their vegetable oil availability since 1961 (FAO, 1993). In 1990, 65 countries had more than 30 grams per caput per day of vegetable oil and 6 other countries (Malaysia, Tunisia, Spain, Italy, Israel and Greece) had more than 60 grams per caput per day. The change in vegetable oil availability in different regions of the world is shown in Figure 4.4.

Contribution of fats and oils by foods groups in 1990


% of Total Fats

Total Fat gram
Visible Fats Invisible Fats
Vegetable Animal Meat Milk Cercal Oilcrop Others
World 68.3 36 11 23 9 8 5 8
Africa 43.1 48 4 9 5 16 10 8
Far East 44.6 35 6 24 6 13 9 7
Near East 72.3 49 7 11 7 13 4 9
Latin America 75.4 43 9 22 10 7 3 6
USSR 106.8 25 22 26 12 5 1 9
Oceania 137.8 20 18 40 13 2 2 5
Europe 142.8 30 20 28 12 3 1 6
North America 151.0 39 9 27 14 2 3 6

Source: FAO Food balance sheets, Agrostat PC, 1993

While each country has particular varieties of oil, only certain oils are important on a global level. Among the major commercial oils, the supplies of soya bean oil have increased from 2.2 to 7.0 grams per caput per day, while the availability of sunflower oil has grown from 1.3 to 3.5 grams per caput per day. Supplies of rapeseed oil increased from 0.9 to 3.4 grams per caput per day and the availability of palm oil rose from 0.9 to 2.9 grams per caput per day. Peanut oil supplies remained almost the same (2 grams per caput per day) during the last 3 decades (FAO, 1993).

Of particular interest is the content of essential fatty acids. Soybean oil contains less linoleic acid than sunflower seed oil. However, both oils provide adequate amounts of linoleic acid. On the other hand, essential fatty acids from the n-3 family may be supplied from vegetable oils containing a -linolenic acid, such as canola and soybean oils, and from fish oils containing the longer-chain fatty acids. Fish oils do not appear as separate items in food balance sheets because they are consumed as part of the fish in many countries. Only a few countries show that significant amounts of fish oils are available. Seven countries have more than 2 grams per caput per day.

FIGURE 4.4 : Change in vegetable oil availability in developed and developing regions


During the last three decades, the availability of fat has increased steadily throughout the world, especially in developing countries. Nevertheless, fat consumption remains low in these countries in comparison with developed nations.

In developing countries, rural families, who are often the poorest members of society, consume diets with a low fat content because of their low income and limited access to a diversified food supply. Malnutrition is a crucial problem and increasing the amount of energy available should be a priority. Fats and oils play a crucial role in bringing about this increase. Nevertheless, in developing countries policies designed to promote this increase can be a risk factor for urban populations who may consume diets with an excess of fat.

In some developed countries, especially in Europe, the availability of polyunsaturated fatty acids is low in comparison to saturated fatty acids because the amount of animal fat available is more than twice that of vegetable fat. In 12 countries, the availability of animal fat is more than 30 grams per caput per day.

The most developed countries have reached very high levels of fat consumption. Some of these countries show a tendency to decrease fat consumption, this is mainly a decrease in visible fats of animal origin which are rich in saturated fatty acids. This new trend is linked to the policies implemented by the most developed countries (especially in North America and Northern Europe) which aim to improve the current consumption patterns, especially by reducing intakes of saturated fatty acids and increasing intakes of polyunsaturated fatty acids. In these countries, visible fats provide more than 70 grams per caput per day. Policies aimed at improving the quality of fats and oils can be effective with the collaboration of food industries.

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