Trends in food availability in Switzerland, 1961–2007

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Abstract

Trends in food availability in Switzerland were assessed using the Food and Agricultural Organization food balance sheets for the period 1961–2007. A relatively stable trend in the daily caloric supply was found: 3545 kcal/day in 1961 and 3465 kcal/day in 2007. Calories associated with carbohydrates decreased (slope±s.e.: −1.1±0.2 kcal/day/year), namely regarding cereals (−2.9±0.6 kcal/day/year) and fruit (−1.5±0.1 kcal/day/year), while the availability of sugars increased (1.2±0.5 kcal/day/year). In 1961, protein, fat, carbohydrates and alcohol represented 10.6, 33.5, 50.0 and 5.9% of total caloric supply, respectively; in 2007, the values were 10.8, 40.3, 43.7 and 5.2%. In 1961, palm, groundnut and sunflowerseed oil represented 3.4, 30.7 and 5.3% of total vegetable oils, respectively; in 2007, the values were 10.4, 3.7 and 31.6%. We conclude that between 1961 and 2007 total caloric availability remained relatively stable in Switzerland; the health effects of the increased and differing fat availability should be evaluated.

Introduction

Dietary-related diseases are increasing worldwide. A recent systematic analysis of 199 countries showed an increase in mean body mass index of 0.4–0.5 kg/m2 per decade (Finucane et al., 2011). This increase could partly be due to changes in dietary habits, namely the replacement of Mediterranean by a more westernized type of diet (Chen and Marques-Vidal, 2007).

Compared with other European countries, Switzerland has a low prevalence of overweight and obesity (Finucane et al., 2011). Still, overweight and obesity levels have been increasing regularly (Faeh et al., 2008), but whether this increase is due to changing dietary habits in the Swiss population is currently unknown. Indeed, apart from a local study (Morabia et al., 1999), there is little information regarding dietary trends for the Swiss population. Hence, we assessed trends in food availability in Switzerland for the period 1961–2007, and compared them with neighbor countries.

Methods

Data from the Food Balance Sheets (FBS) of the Food and Agriculture Organization (Food and Agriculture Organization, 2011) was used (http://www.fao.org/). FBS are country-level agricultural statistics that have been published yearly since 1961. The consistency of methods makes FBS a valuable source of information about the pattern of a country's food supply during a specified reference period. Food commodities supply for a given country is estimated taking into account total production, imports, exports and stocks of food as well as its non-food use. The resulting yearly supply of each food commodity (that is, pulses, milk…) is then divided by the average population and the number of days of the corresponding year to obtain an estimate of the daily food available per capita. The total, protein and fat-derived calories for each food commodity are further assessed and expressed on a daily basis (kcal/person/day). Calories associated to carbohydrates were derived from total caloric intake after removing calories from fat, protein and alcohol.

Data for period 1961–2007 from Switzerland and its neighbors (Austria, France, Germany and Italy) was used. These countries were selected because of their geographical proximity and because of the linguistic and traditional similarities between Swiss cantons and these countries.

Statistical analyses were performed with SPSS version 18 (IBM Corp., Somers, NY, USA). Linear regression was used to assess trends and the results were expressed as the yearly change (slope±s.e. and (95% confidence interval)). Statistical significance was assessed for P<0.05.

Results

The trends in caloric supply for period 1961–2007 for Switzerland and its neighboring countries are summarized in Table 1. Total caloric supply decreased slightly but significantly in Switzerland, whereas it increased in the other countries. Calories related to carbohydrates decreased in Switzerland, France and Italy. Conversely, calories related to protein and fat increased, a trend also observed in the other countries.

Table 1 Trends in daily per capita caloric availability in Switzerland and neighboring countries, 1961–2007

Trends in the availability of selected food commodities are summarized in Table 2. Availability of vegetal products decreased in Switzerland, while it increased in the neighboring countries. This decrease was mainly owing to fruits and cereals, while the availability of vegetables increased. The decrease in fruit availability was not found in the other countries, and a decrease in cereal availability was only found in Italy. Conversely, the increase in vegetables availability was also found in most neighboring countries, with the exception of France. Sugar and sweeteners availability increased in Switzerland and in its neighbor countries, with the exception of Italy. An increase in the availability of vegetable oils was found in all countries, albeit lower in Switzerland.

Table 2 Trends in different food commodities (expressed in kcal/per capita/day) in Switzerland and its neighboring countries, 1961–2007

Availability of animal products remained stable in Switzerland and increased in all other countries. Meat availability increased in all countries. Milk availability decreased in Switzerland while it remained stable or increased in the neighbor countries. Animal fats remained stable in Switzerland, increased in France and Italy and decreased in Austria and Germany. Alcoholic beverages decreased in Switzerland, France and Italy, whereas an increase was observed for Austria and Germany.

In 1961, palm, groundnut and sunflowerseed oil represented 3.4, 30.7 and 5.3% of total vegetable oils, respectively; in 2007, the values were 10.4, 3.7 and 31.6%. In 1961, bananas and apples represented 6.3 and 25.3% of all fruit calories available; in 2007, the corresponding values were 15.8 and 11.9%. Pig represented three quarters of all meat-derived calories in 1961, and this percentage remained relatively stable in 2007; conversely, the percentage owing to bovine meat decreased at the benefit of poultry meat, which augmented from 4.2% in 1961 to 11.0% in 2007. Among alcoholic beverages, the percentage of wine increased (33.7–41.3%), whereas the percentage of beer decreased (45.7–43.0%).

Discussion

The slight decrease in total caloric availability observed in Switzerland is of interest, as it suggests that the total amount of food consumed per capita has changed little. This favorable trend might partly explain the weaker increase in overweight and obesity levels in Switzerland compared with its neighbors, although other factors such as an increase in leisure-time physical activity levels (Lamprecht and Stamm, 2011) cannot be ruled out.

The percentage of calories due to fat was higher than recommended (30%) and increased at the expense of carbohydrates, namely cereals and fruit. The increase in sunflower and olive oil, in addition with the decrease in coconut oil, indicates an important shift from saturated to poly and monounsaturated fatty acids supply. Still, palm oil availability increased, probably due to an increase in industrially prepared foods. The decrease in red meat is in agreement with another study (Morabia et al., 1999), and cannot be solely ascribed to the ‘mad cow’ disease of the mid 1990s, as the decrease began before that period. Finally, the decrease of local fruits at the expense of tropical fruits might express food markets globalization or the fall in local fruit production; in Switzerland, between 1999 and 2007, the area dedicated to apple production decreased from 5015 to 4235 acres (Réviron and Bardet, 2010).

We thus conclude that between 1961 and 2007 total caloric availability remained relatively stable in Switzerland; the health effects of the increased and differing fat availability should be evaluated.

References

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  2. Faeh D, Marques-Vidal P, Chiolero A, Bopp M (2008). Obesity in Switzerland: do estimates depend on how body mass index has been assessed? Swiss medical weekly 138, 204–210.

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  4. Food and Agriculture Organization (2011). Food balance sheets. Available at http://faostat.fao.org/site/368/default.aspx#ancor (assessed April 2011).

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  6. Morabia A, Bernstein MS, Heritier S, Beer-Borst S (1999). A Swiss population-based assessment of dietary habits before and after the March 1996 ‘mad cow disease’ crisis. Eur J Clin Nutr 53, 158–163.

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Acknowledgements

The excellent secretarial support from Filomena Jacquier was greatly appreciated.

Author information

Correspondence to P Marques-Vidal.

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Competing interests

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Additional information

Contributors: FG analyzed the data and wrote most of the manuscript. FJ collected the data and created part of the figures. PMV designed the study and wrote part of the manuscript. FP revised the manuscript for important intellectual content.

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Keywords

  • dietary trends
  • food availability
  • Switzerland
  • food balance sheets
  • nutrition

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