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Arguments - Trends

Food preferences in China are changing rapidly. Today, people not only eat much more meat than two decades ago, but there is also a trend toward a more diverse diet. Consumption of vegetables, fruit, alcohol, sugar, eggs, and dairy products has increased rapidly, while the consumption of pulses, roots, and tubers has declined. With increased affluence we can expect that China's average diet will change further, becoming similar to that of other developed Asian countries.

Short Description of the Problem
The analysis of changes in diet is an important element for the assessment of China's food prospects. Three questions are crucial:
WB00860_.gif (262 bytes) What are the major trends in China's food commodity production?
WB00860_.gif (262 bytes) What are the major trends in China's food balance?
WB00860_.gif (262 bytes) What are the trends in animal protein (meat, fish) consumption?
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What are the major trends?  
In the mid-1960, before China started its great economic reforms, on average, people lived on a diet of rice, wheat, and starchy roots, with rare servings of vegetables and meat or fish. According to estimates from the FAO, meat contributed just 77 kcal (or 3.9%) to the average daily per capita calorie supply in 1964-1966. Cereals such as rice or wheat, on the other hand, contributed 1,299 kcal (or almost 67%). Starchy roots such as potatoes provided 269 kcal per person per day (or almost 14%).  (See Tables 1 to 5).
Sweet foods were extremely rare in the mid-1960s. Sweeteners, such as sugar, contributed just 26 kcal per day (or 1.3%) to the average diet; the diet was also not very rich in vitamins. On average, people had a supply of just 47.4 kg of vegetables and only 12.4 kg of fruit per year. This was equivalent to a daily calorie supply of 38 kcal from vegetables and 9 kcal from fruits - or just 1.9% and 0.5% of the total calorie supply per person per day, respectively. Stimulants (tea, coffee), spices, and alcoholic beverages combined contributed just 12 kcal, or  0.6%, to the average diet.

All this has changed dramatically. Food production in China has increased massively between the mid-1960s and the early 1990s (see the in-depth analysis of China's grain production). The overall calorie supply, for instance, has increased from 1,953 to 2,766 kcal per person per day. The per capita supply of meat has quadrupled, growing from 77 kcal per person per day in the mid-1960s to 320 kcal per person per day in the mid-1990s (see Figure 1). While the Chinese population had a higher per capita supply of rice in the mid-1990s (923 kcal, up from 733 kcal in the 1960s), the share of rice in the overall calorie supply declined: in 1964-1966, rice contributed 37.5% of the calorie supply; in 1994-1996, its share was only 27.7%. Starchy roots are no longer a major food commodity: in the mid-1960s the average per capita supply was 102 kg per year; in the mid-1990s, it was only 60.5 kg per year.
Today, the Chinese population has a much richer, more diverse diet. Vegetables and fruit, for instance, now contribute some 5% to the average calorie supply. In 1994-1996 each person in China, on average, had a supply of 135 kg of vegetables and 48 kg of fruit per year. The supply of alcoholic beverages increased almost 15-fold - from 1.5 to 21.9 kg per person per year (however, it is still much lower than in many developed Asian countries). The supply of sweeteners, such as sugar, almost tripled, as did the supply of animal fats and milk. Today, people in China eat about six times as many eggs as in the mid-1960s. The supply of fish has more than quadrupled from 4.4 to 18.3 kg per person per year. On balance, animal products contributed 114 kcal (or 5.8%) to the diet in 1964-1966; in the mid-1990s, they supplied 461 kcal (or 16.7%) per person per day.

For a detailed discussion of the changes in China's food supply see the in-depth analysis of China's food balance and the tables below (Tables 2 to 5).

Grain Supply
Projecting China's food demand in 2025 and 2050

Diet change in China
Figure 1

China's Food Balance in 1964-66
Table 1

China's Food Balance
Projecting China's food demand in 2025 and 2050

China's Food Balance in 1964-66
Table 2

China's Food Balance in 1994-96
Table 3

Changes in China's Food Balance between 1964-66 and 1994-96
Table 4

Changes in China's Food Balance between 1964-66 and 1994-96 (in %)
Table 5

Related Arguments

Diet Change:   Trends     Impact    Data Quality    Prediction Error    Intervention Possibilities    Intervention Costs

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Revision 2.0 (First revision published in 1999)  - Copyright 2011 by Gerhard K. Heilig. All rights reserved. (First revision: Copyright 1999 by IIASA.)