Why the world’s poorest spend the most on food

Adria Saracino of Distilled, a creative digital agency, shares an interactive infographic on global food consumption and income using data from a surprising source: Food Service Warehouse.

Developing countries consume much less than Western nations, particularly in times of crisis, like with what we’re seeing in Somalia. However, despite a lower caloric intake, these poorer countries’ citizens spend more than 50 percent of their income on food.

A visualization of the 20 highest and lowest calorie consuming countries compared with those same countries’ percent of income spent on food. Built by Food Service Warehouse.

Food Service Warehouse (FSW) created the interactive infographic to the left (click to launch) to explore the caloric intake of the 20 richest and poorest countries. They were expecting to see a lower average calorie consumption between the two sets of countries, but were surprised to find that the poorer countries spent more than half of their income on food.

Since FSW works with a lot of different organizations in the food industry, they have access to large sets of data. They utilize this data to explore its customers and industry, and in the process, often make startling discoveries. This food consumption infographic was developed after analyzing data for a competitive eating infographic. While conducting research on calorie consumption in the US, FSW noticed there was a huge difference in calorie intake among US citizens. These differences — attributed to factors like height, gender, activity level and geography — result in an average daily consumption of 3770 calories per person.

This seemed like an astronomical amount, especially in light of the Somalia famine. Thus, FSW turned to the FAO and WorldSalaries.org (which compiled information from local governments) to explore the differences between the 20 poorest and 20 richest countries.

Since there was so much data, FSW decided to make it interactive in order to better visualize the information. The graph below the map defaults on the caloric consumption of each country, highlighting the recommended daily consumption. Notice that all of the richest countries are above that line, while all of the poorest countries are below.

If you click on the tab to the right of the graph title, you’ll see the percentage of income spent on food by country. Note that almost all of the 20 poorest countries spend more than 50 percent of their income on food, compared to less than 25 percent among richer countries.

Each country on the graphs is labeled numerically in order for readers to find it on the map above. When you hover over the country’s numerical marker it shows more detailed information above the caloric intake versus the income spent on food.

There are some very interesting highlights in the data. First, 14 of the 20 lowest-consumption countries are located in Africa, with Angola spending the most at 80 percent. Conversely, the US spends only 6.9 percent of its income on food, the lowest in the world.

So why does all of this matter? First, the obesity epidemic is spreading quickly, particularly in the United States. Obesity leads to heart disease, diabetes, and even death. While it is slowly being addressed, obesity is still the second most common cause of preventable death in the US.

The second reason this information is important is the fact that food shortage is becoming a global food crisis according to some experts. This results in millions of deaths across the world, and billions of dollars spent on aid relief.

- Adria Saracino, Head of Outreach, Distilled Creative