Changing global diets

Date : 26 July 2013

Global diets are changing.  Sugar, oils, dairy, and animal product consumption are increasing in almost all regions of the world - yet people in low- and middle-income countries still consume far less meat and dairy than those in high-income countries.

The demand for food is expected to continue to grow as a result both of population growth and rising incomes. 

According to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), demand for cereals (for food and animal feed) is projected to reach around 3 billion tonnes by 2050. Annual cereal production will have to grow by almost a billion tonnes and meat production by over 200 million tonnes to reach a total of 470 million tonnes in 2050, 72 percent of which will be consumed in developing countries, up from 58 percent. 


The production of biofuels could also increase the demand for agricultural commodities, depending on energy prices and government policies. 

Expected diets change

Expected diets change

Source: Defra 2010 (from FAO)

Increased Consumption

  • Food consumption is increasing on a global scale—from 2,250 calories per person per day in 1961 to 2,750 calories in 2007 to a projected 3,070 calories by 2050 (Kastner et al 2012, Alexandratos and Bruinsma 2012: 50)
  • South Asia is expected to quadruple its meat consumption from 2005 to 2050
  • Low- and middle-income countries are expected to consume more meat and dairy to 2050. Except in South Asia, consumption of roots and tubers will continue to decrease (Alexandratos and Bruinsma 2012)
  • By 2050, Latin America, Near East/North Africa and East Asia will have a per capita food consumption similar to that of high-income countries in 1990 (Alexandratos and Bruinsma 2012)
  • Global animal protein consumption has more than doubled since 1970. The growing global population and increasing per capita consumption of meat and dairy will increase global animal protein demand by 60% by 2030. ( *PBL 2009)
  • Meat consumption in low- and middle-income countries - except for China and Brazil - is projected to grow 75% from 2005 to 2050, reaching 30 kilograms per person per year. (Alexandratos and Bruinsma 2012)
  • By 2050, Latin America’s per capita meat consumption (84 kilograms/person/year) will be the same as high-income countries (91 kilograms/person/year) (Alexandratos and Bruinsma 2012)
  • Producing calorie energy and protein from livestock takes an estimated 2.5 to 10 times more energy than from grain. Currently, one third of the world’s cereals supply is used for livestock feed, which results in lower energy efficiency (de Fraiture et al. 2007). An increase in humans’ direct cereals consumption - which would require the difficult task of convincing richer populations to change their diets - would boost the global food system’s energy efficiency. (Kahn and Hanjra 2009: 131)
  • The production of animal protein must be more than tripled if the projected global population of 9 billion people in 2050 were to consume meat and dairy at current North American and European levels ( *PBL 2009)

Increasing Prosperity

  • The World Bank estimates that the global middle class is likely to grow from 430 million in 2000 to 1.15 billion in 2030
  • In 2000, developing countries were home to 56% of the global middle class, but by 2030 that figure is expected to reach 93%
  • China and India will account for two-thirds of the global middle class, with China contributing 52% of the increase and India 12%, World Bank research shows
  • In 2008, for the first time in history, more than half of the world’s population was living in towns and cities. By 2030 this number will swell to almost 5 billion, with urban growth concentrated in Africa and Asia
  • India’s economy is five times bigger than 20 years ago and China's is a staggering 13 times larger. India’s economy has overtaken Japan and Brazil has surpassed the UK
  • China has become the world’s biggest market for groceries
  • The average Chinese person is eating four times as much meat as 30 years ago and seven times as much dairy

Sources: World Bank, UNPFA, FAO, Defra CGIAR and CCAFS

*(PBL) Planbureau voor de Leefomgeving. 2009. Milieubalans 2009. Bilthoven: Planbureau voor de Leefomgeving.