A recent report in the UK-based Daily Mail, Bahrain was titled the ‘World’s Biggest Eater’, indicating that food consumption was the highest in the Kingdom, (followed by the United States of America). While the Tabloid created a version of its own data (thanks to Open Source license), Bahrain Confidential accessed the original map published on the University of Oxford’s scientific online publication only to find it misinterpreted.
The UK-based Tabloid emphasised the USA’s obesity problem, while ‘generously’ mentioning Bahrain for consuming more kilocalories of food than any other nation in the world. However, the data it leveraged had little to do with the food consumption of a country/region.
What does the data represent?
Bahrain does top the list but not as the “World’s Biggest Eater”. The island supplies the highest quantities of food (kilocalories) per capita. The information published in Our World in Data indicated “Calorie Supply”, a measure of dietary energy that is available per person per day. It doesn’t necessarily equate to the amount of kilocalories people consume daily.
The data is published annually by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The interactive chart shows the average daily supply of calories (measured in kilocalories per person per day) by region between 1961 and 2020.
Below is the original interactive map published on Our World in Data, representing kilocaloric supply from all foods per day per capita between 1961 and 2020.
It boils down to the simple difference between supply and consumption. The original data shows that the highest kilocalories per capita are supplied in Bahrain. It does not account for consumption or wastage. As such, the actual consumption in the country is expected to be lower than the supply. In fact, according to a 2021 chart, on average, a person in Bahrain needs 1967 Kilocalories of food to maintain minimum health.
The Obesity Factor
The Daily Mail’s report albeit validly claims that global obesity rates are increasing. There is no denying such a trend. While on one hand, the increased supply of calories creates a positive impression about food equality, it is a wake-up call for the developed world to make sure citizens are staying healthy and active.
Obesity among adults is growing at alarming rates all over the world. 2016 data reveals that 13% of the world’s adult population is obese. In the same set, the rate of obesity in Bahrain was recorded at 28.7 per cent – ahead only of Oman (22.9 per cent). Kuwait topped the charts among GCC countries with an obesity rate of 37 per cent, followed by Saudi Arabia (35 per cent), Qatar (33 per cent), and UAE (29.9 per cent).
|Prevalence of obesity among adults, BMI & Greater Equal; 30 (crude estimate) (%) Both Genders
|United Arab Emirates
With improved productivity and a rising call for action towards food security, most countries have witnessed an increase in energy (food) supply. However, while supply and consumption may not be directly related, unhealthy food habits can result in weight gain and obesity. In the absence of physical work, (exercise, walking, or cycling), the effects can be life-threatening or long-term.