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Multidimensional characterization of global food supply from 1961 to 2013


Food systems are increasingly globalized and interdependent, and diets around the world are changing. Characterization of national food supplies and how they have changed can inform food policies that ensure national food security, support access to healthy diets and enhance environmental sustainability. Here we analysed data for 171 countries on the availability of 18 food groups from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization to identify and track multidimensional food supply patterns from 1961 to 2013. Four predominant food-group combinations were identified that explained almost 90% of the cross-country variance in food supply: animal source and sugar, vegetable, starchy root and fruit, and seafood and oilcrops. South Korea, China and Taiwan experienced the largest changes in food supply over the past five decades, with animal source foods and sugar, vegetables and seafood and oilcrops all becoming more abundant components of the food supply. In contrast, in many Western countries the supply of animal source foods and sugar declined. Meanwhile, there was remarkably little change in the food supply in countries in the sub-Saharan Africa region. These changes led to a partial global convergence in the national supply of animal source foods and sugar, and a divergence in those of vegetables and of seafood and oilcrops. Our analysis generated a novel characterization of food supply that highlights the interdependence of multiple food types in national food systems. A better understanding of how these patterns have evolved and will continue to change is needed to support the delivery of healthy and sustainable food system policies.

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Fig. 1: Loadings of each food group for the four food supply scores.
Fig. 2: Mean food supply scores by country.
Fig. 3: Overall change in national food supply from 1961–1965 to 2009–2013.

Data availability

The data analysed in this study are published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and are available from The results of this study (that is, the scores and change index) are available from the website of the NCD Risk Factor Collaboration at


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This study was funded by the Wellcome Trust Biomedical Resource & Multi-User Equipment Programme (101506/Z/13/Z). J.B. was supported by a Royal Society Research grant (RS/R1/180086). R.G. and A.D.D. were supported by Wellcome Trust grants 205200/Z/16/Z and 210794/Z/18/Z. M.D.C. was supported by an Academy of Medical Sciences Springboard Award (HOP001/1029).

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Authors and Affiliations



M.E. and G.D. developed the study concept. J.B., G.M.S. and J.K.L. obtained the data, conducted the analyses and prepared the results. R.G., G.A.S., F.F., J.E.B., M.D.C. and A.D.D. contributed to the data, analyses and interpretation. J.B. and M.E. wrote the first draft of the paper with input from the other authors.

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Correspondence to James Bentham.

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Competing interests

M.E. received personal fees from Prudential, Scor and Third Bridge, and a charitable grant from the AstraZeneca Young Health Programme, outside the submitted work. The other authors declare no competing interests.

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Bentham, J., Singh, G.M., Danaei, G. et al. Multidimensional characterization of global food supply from 1961 to 2013. Nat Food 1, 70–75 (2020).

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