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Guiding Framework: Data Sources

Food Balance Sheets (FBS)


Food Balance Sheets (FBS) are developed by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations in conjunction with national statics offices. Food balance sheets -- also referred to as national food accounts, supply/utilization accounts, food disappearance data, and food consumption level estimates -- are commonly used data to proxy for food consumption at the national level in developing countries. Foods tracked through the FBS include both primary commodities (e.g. wheat, rice, fruit, vegetables) and a number of processed commodities (e.g. vegetable oils, butter). 

FBS for individual commodities, and for the overall food supply, are calculated whereby: food available for consumption = starting stocks + (quantity imported + quantity produced) – (quantity exported + seed + animal feed + waste + other non-food uses) - ending stocks.

Importantly, FBS report food available for consumption at the national level but they do not directly measure individual food intake, or how food or nutrients are distributed within the population. Despite some of the limitations of FBS data, one of their key strengths is that they are a source of low cost and freely accessible food data through FAOSTAT. Another is that they are available over multiple years.


  • Easy to access and analyze
  • Publicly available and free to use through FAOSTAT
  • Data available for over 245 countries and territories
  • Standardized data that allow for comparisons over time
  • Collected every year starting in 1961 (presented as three-year averages)
  • Provides information on trends of population level consumption patterns based on food available for consumption in food supply


  • Cannot be disaggregated to determine the distribution of food and nutrient intake spatially, seasonally, or by demographic characteristics or socio-economic status
  • Limited specificity of foods and limited information on processed foods
  • Lag in reporting data (approximately three years)
  • Quality and coverage vary across countries and commodities

Key take-away points: Methods and types of indicators that can and cannot be derived with these data:

There are a number of ways that FBS data can be leveraged for food security and nutrition analyses. Some specific examples include:

  • Many indicators can be calculated with FBS data. Those of particular interest to this Guiding Framework include average protein supply of animal origin, depth of food deficit, prevalence of undernourishment, and prevalence of food inadequacy
  • Pairing FBS data with complementary data sources, such as household surveys, allows researchers to determine the variance and skewness of the population distribution
  • FBS data are not appropriate for drawing conclusions about actual food consumption of individuals or households
  • FSB data alone are not appropriate for drawing conclusions about sub-national differences



2) FAO Food Balance Sheet Handbook:

3) Coates et al. (2012), Applying Dietary Assessment Methods for Food Fortification and Other Nutrition Programs:

24-Hour Dietary Recall (24HR)

7 Indicators Cultural Preference Quality Quantity

Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS)

2 Indicators Quality Quantity

Food Balance Sheets (FBS)

10 Indicators Quality Quantity Stability Sustainability

Food Frequency Questionnaire (FFQ)

5 Indicators Cultural Preference Quality Quantity

Household Consumption and Expenditure Surveys (HCES)

11 Indicators Cultural Preference Quality Quantity

Market data (e.g. Euromonitor)

6 Indicators Quality Quantity Stability


4 Indicators Quality Quantity

Weighed Food Record (WFR)

6 Indicators Cultural Preference Quality Quantity

Data Collection Levels: NationalHousehold
Data Collection Level: National
Data Collection Level: National
Data Collection Level: National
Data Collection Level: National