Food Balance Sheets

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) uses national-level data on the production, export, and import of food in food balance sheets to calculate the average daily per capita energy supply. This value, combined with a measure of the inequality in food distribution, is used to calculate the proportion of undernourished individuals in a population. Globally, 840 million people are undernourished: 11 million in developed countries, 30 million in countries in transition, and 799 million in the developing world. The total number of undernourished people has increased during the past decade, despite the increase in per caput food availability, because of population growth. The proportion of undernourished individuals is highest in Africa, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, but the greatest number of undernourished people is in Asia (Figure 3).

The precision of the FAO estimate for the number of undernourished individuals is dependent on the accuracy and reliability of agricultural statistics in developing countries, many of which include a large sector that produces food for subsistence and not the market economy. FAO is refining its method to adjust for the latter by including data collected at the household level. The food balance method, however, only deals with estimating the deficit in energy but not nutrient intakes. The latter can be obtained from detailed household or individual-level food consumption surveys, although nationally representative dietary intake surveys are rare in developing countries.

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