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How Income Affects Macronutrient Intake in Developing Nations

The FAO 2012 Hunger Report had an interesting analysis of income levels versus dietary intake in developing nations. For 47 developing nations, they charted the macronutrients in the diets of the population by income: the top 20% versus the bottom 20%. By dividing incomes into quintiles (segments of 20 percentage points), we can discern the change in diet that occurs when a population moves out of poverty and therefore out of hunger. The top quintile in any nation will not be in a state of hunger, since no nation has over 80% of their population in a state of chronic undernourishment.

As incomes rise, consumption of fats increases and consumption of carbs, such as from cereals, roots and tubers, decreases. In terms of macronutrients, fat consumption in the bottom quintile of the least developed nations is about 12% of total daily kilocalories. In the same nations, for the top quintile, fat consumption rises to about 20%. For other developing nations, fat intake in the bottom quintile is about 15%, and for the top quintile, it is about 27%. The Institute of Medicine’s recommended levels of fat intake for adults is 20 to 35% of total daily kilocalories. So the increase in income correlates with a transition from inadequate to adequate fat intake.

The top quintile has a slightly higher protein intake than the bottom quintile in both sets of nations. So an increase in fat and protein implies a reduction in carbohydrate intake. But all of this is as a percent of daily calories. Given that the bottom quintile in the least developed nations will often be in a state of hunger, the top quintile must represent a significant increase in total daily calories. So the slight increase in protein intake, as a percent, is a significant increase in protein as a discrete amount (grams per day). The same thinking applies to dietary fat. The increase from 15% to 27% implies a greater increase in terms of grams per day.

Carbohydrate intake must decrease as a percent, since both fat and protein increase. However, the increase in total kcal/day might allow for a small increase in carbs in terms of grams per day.

As I discuss at length in my book and in other posts on this blog, the primary macronutrient need of the hungry of the world is for more dietary fat. The secondary need is for more protein, and some of the hungry would benefit from an increase in carbs. The analysis of macronutrients in the FAO 2012 Hunger Report supports that conclusion.

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