FAOSTAT data portal shows that Latin America and the Caribbean have the highest cost of a healthy diet compared to other regions

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has made publicly available country-by-country indicators on healthy diets that show their cost – including by food group – and the number of individuals unable to afford them.

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According to the FAO, the data serves as a reminder that even if the world has made progress towards providing enough calories to feed the global population, there remains a long road ahead to sustainably nourishing all people.

Recently, FAO did an extensive analysis of how many people can in fact afford a healthy diet, one that offers a diversity of nutrient-rich food, aligned with dietary guidance.

“The result was sobering: Billions of people in the world cannot afford a healthy diet,” FAO stated.

Regional analysis

The indicators developed by FAO, researchers at Tufts University and the World Bank showed that Latin America and the Caribbean have the highest cost of a healthy diet compared to other regions, at US$3.89 per person per day in 2020.

They were followed by Asia (US$3.72), Africa (US$3.46), Northern America and Europe (US$3.19) and Oceania (US$3.07).

Between 2019 and 2020, Asia witnessed the highest rise in the cost of a healthy diet (4 per cent), followed by Oceania (3.6 per cent), Latin America and the Caribbean (3.4 per cent), Northern America and Europe (3.2 per cent) and Africa (2.5 per cent).

”Almost 3.1bn people could not afford a healthy diet in 2020 – an increase of 112m more people than in 2019, reflecting the higher costs of a healthy diet in 2020,” the report continued.

”This was mainly driven by Asia, where 78m more people were unable to afford this diet, followed by Africa (25m more people), and to a lesser extent by Latin America and the Caribbean and Northern America and Europe (8m and 1m more people, respectively).”

In 12 countries, all of them in Africa, more than 90 per cent of the population cannot regularly afford a healthy diet, while the same is true of more than half the population in 53 countries for which data is available, and in 26 countries that figure is less than 1 per cent.

“Putting an end to hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition in all its forms (including undernutrition, micronutrient deficiencies, overweight and obesity) is about more than securing enough food to survive: What people eat must also be nutritious,” said David Laborde, director of FAO’s Agrifood Economics Division. “Yet a key obstacle is the high cost of nutritious foods and the low affordability of healthy diets for vast numbers of people around the world.”

The methodology

FAO said that it computed eight indicators on cost and on affordability.

A healthy diet provides not only adequate calories but also the right types of nutrient-rich foods from a variety of food groups as recommended by food-based dietary guidelines.

The reference diet is estimated based on a ’representative’ adult consuming 2,330 kilocalories per day – an approach commonly used for food-based dietary guidelines.

The lowest cost locally available foods, at recommended portion sizes from six food groups (staple foods, vegetables, fruits, animal source foods, legumes nuts and seeds, and oils and fats) make up the reference healthy diet.

The consumer prices of these foods are obtained from the World Bank International Comparison Programme (ICP) and are updated using national consumer food price indices.

For international comparisons, prices are converted into international dollars using purchasing parity (PPP) exchange rates, and national income distributions. The affordability threshold is defined as 52 percent of the average household expenditures.

Click here to see the FAO’s full set of indicators when it comes to Cost and Affordability of a Healthy Diet (CoAHD)