The indicator of average protein supply provides a national-level estimate of the availability of protein and offers insight into the nutritional quality of the food supply. For example, in countries where malnutrition is prevalent, increased consumption of protein-rich foods is an important sign of improved diet quality. Consumption of protein from animal source foods has been shown to protect children against stunting (Lancet, 2008). This indicator does not yield any information on the affordability, access or consumption of such foods by different population groups within a given country, meaning that a sufficient national supply does not ensure sufficient protein consumption by nutritionally vulnerable groups. Nonetheless, it can be useful for determining whether a country’s food supply contains enough protein to meet aggregate population needs. If it does not, then measures should be taken, such as promoting production or increased imports of protein-rich foods.
In addition to indicators of the total supply of all protein, a similar indicator can be constructed on FAOSTAT that distinguishes between the availability of animal source protein and non-animal source protein. This more nuanced indicator can be useful, as it disaggregates animal source proteins from plant-based proteins, and as such, can be considered a proxy for diet quality. Additional indicators of quality of the food supply using Food Balance Sheet (FBS) data that are covered in the Data4Diets platform include meat consumption, national energy available from non-staples and national fruit and vegetable availability in food supply, among others. Other related indicators at the household and individual levels include: household share of animal protein in total protein consumption and total individual macronutrient intake.
Method of Construction
This indicator is part of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Suite of Food Security Indicators and can be accessed on the FAOSTAT website by selecting 'suite of food security indicators' under the 'data' tab. Users can produce this indicator for a given country and year (or span of years) by selecting 'Average protein supply (g/capita/day) (3-year average)' under the 'items' section. A related indicator reflecting protein from animal-source foods, called 'Average supply of protein of animal origin (g/capita/day) (3-year average),' is also available.
FAO calculates the national estimate of total food availability using data from a number of sources, including government agencies, marketing authorities, and industrial/manufacturing surveys, among others (FAO, 2001). This national estimate is calculated as the sum of the elements of supply (production quantity, import quantity, and stock variation [i.e. net increase or decrease]) minus the elements of utilization (export quantity, food manufacturing, feed, seed, waste, and other uses). Using Food Composition Tables, FAOSTAT calculates the protein content (in grams) of the edible portion of each type of food available for human consumption (e.g. eggs, wheat, beans), and then these values are added to compute the total national protein supply (FAO, 2001). This value is then divided by the population size and by 365 days to calculate the per capita daily average protein supply. This calculated value (grams/capita/day) is available in FAOSTAT for the total food supply, as well as for individual food items and food groups.
When data from individual dietary surveys or household surveys are unavailable, this indicator serves as a proxy for protein consumption levels at the population level (FAO, 2016). Because the data are available annually, with a 2-3-year lag, for nearly all countries, this is a useful indicator for cross-country comparisons of protein consumption, as well as for analysis of trends over time within a country. This indicator and the average supply of animal source protein, are both part of the FAOSTAT Suite of Food Security Indicators.
Strengths and Weaknesses
One strength of this indicator is that it is easily constructed using FBS data, and the data used for the indicator are regularly updated by national governments and are centrally located in FAOSTAT in a standard format. The indicator is also simple to interpret and lacks sampling and reporting biases associated with dietary recall data (Lele et al., 2016).
However, a downside of this indicator is that it does not reflect actual consumption of protein but rather protein availability in a given country. In addition, since the indicator is a national-level estimate, it cannot be disaggregated by age, sex, or by any geographic scale smaller than the national level, nor can it detect disparities in protein consumption across population groups or seasons, as is possible with individual-level dietary data. The indicator is limited to the foods that appear in the FBS food list and therefore does not capture all possible sources of protein in the diet (e.g. insects or wild foods). Although the FBS accounts for food losses incurred at the distribution and processing levels, it does not account for plate waste at the household or individual level (Lele et al., 2016).
The main source of data for this indicator is the FAO FBS database, which disaggregates elements of utilization and supply, and estimate total food available for human consumption. FAO pairs this information with food composition data to produce information on the national supply of macronutrients (per capita/day). In addition, Household Consumption and Expenditure Surveys (HCES) could be used to calculate a similar indicator, such as household share of dietary energy consumption from different macronutrients. Alternatively, 24-hour Dietary Recall or Weighed Food Records could be used to calculate total individual macronutrient intake.