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Which culture eats the most fat?

There are a variety of factors that contribute to which cultures consume the most dietary fat. Geography, climate, cultural food traditions, and economics all play a role in shaping a society’s typical fat intake. Some cultures have long relied on foods high in saturated fats like meats, dairy, and oils while others traditionally center their diets around grains, vegetables, and fish. As globalization progresses and more groups adopt Western-style diets high in processed foods and meats, fat consumption is rising in many parts of the world. However, traditional high-fat cuisines continue to prevail in certain regions.

Geographic and Climatic Influences

The geography and climate of a region significantly impacts the types of foods that can be easily produced and thus consumed. Colder climates that are not conducive to growing produce year-round have historically relied heavily on meat and dairy for nutrition. For example, the traditional Inuit diet in the Arctic is extremely high in fat due to the consumption of fatty meats like seal and whale as well as fish and shellfish. Similar high-fat carnivorous diets arose in Siberian, Scandinavian, and other northern cultures where fruits, vegetables, and grains were seasonally scarce or unavailable.

Warmer tropical climates allow for year-round cultivation of plants, particularly carbohydrate-rich tubers and grains. Southeast Asian and African cultures located along tropical latitudes traditionally centered their diets around staples like rice, millet, yams, cassava, and plantains. While these societies did consume meat and fish, plant foods were more calorically significant and their cuisines remained relatively low in fat. The Mediterranean region is an exception, as its temperate climate, fertile land, and proximity to the ocean facilitated the development of diets rich in olive oil, nuts, fish, eggs, and seasonal produce.

Economics and Food Security

The prosperity and food security of a population also impacts the amount of fat consumed. Animal products like meat and dairy require more resources to produce compared to staple grains and vegetables. Throughout history, societies with greater wealth and trade access were able to acquire more of these expensive, higher-fat foods. For example, the ancient Greek and Roman empires were able to import foods like olive oil across the Mediterranean and incorporated more meat into their elite cuisines. Similarly, the aristocracy and merchant classes of medieval Europe consumed more fatty meats and wild game compared to the peasant class.

In modern developing countries, poorer populations still rely heavily on grains, tubers, legumes, and limited vegetables and fruits for sustenance. Meanwhile, economic growth in countries like China and Brazil is allowing greater consumption of higher-fat meat and dairy products. However, declining poverty and global trade are increasing fat intake across lower economic classes worldwide.

Cultural Food Traditions

A society’s unique food culture and traditions have a major impact on fat consumption patterns. Cuisines based around staples like wheat, rice, corn, millet, and starchy tubers are typically lower in fat, while those centered on meat preparation are higher in saturated fats. For example:

  • South Asia’s cuisine focuses on grains like rice and wheat, legumes like dal, vegetables, yogurt, and spices. The use of ghee (clarified butter) bumps up fat contents but overall, traditional Indian diets are moderate to low in fat.
  • Traditional East Asian fare relies heavily on white rice, noodles, tofu, fish, chicken, and vegetables cooked with small amounts of sesame, peanut, or other plant-based oils. This makes for an overall low to moderate fat diet.
  • The Mediterranean diet is rich in olive oil as well as nuts, fish, poultry, eggs, cheese, and ample fruits and vegetables. The predominance of unsaturated plant fats and oils makes it higher in fat compared to Asian cuisines but still relatively healthy.
  • Cuisines from regions like South America, the Middle East, and North Africa use more saturated fats for cooking and preparing dishes like stews, tagines, and roasted or fried meats. This increases total fat intake.
  • Traditional diets across North America and Northern Europe rely heavily on meat, dairy, lard, butter, and eggs as major calorie sources. Historically they have been quite high in saturated fat.

The Nutrition Transition

In recent decades, rising incomes, industrialization of food systems, trade liberalization, and globalization of Western-style diets have led to a “nutrition transition” in many nations. This refers to a shift away from traditional diets towards increased consumption of highly processed foods, added sugars, refined carbohydrates, vegetable oils, and animal-source foods (meat/dairy). Consequently, fat intake as a percentage of calories has risen across the globe, even in historically lower-fat cuisines.

For example, higher socioeconomic groups in China and India have increased their fat intake by adopting more Western-style eating patterns. Cooking oils, animal products, packaged sweets, and fast food have displaced some traditional staple foods. However, lower income rural populations continue following more traditional diets. This nutrition transition is occurring at different paces around the world depending on factors like income level and extent of market integration. Many cultures are now straddling the line between traditional and modern Westernized diets.

Current High-Fat Consuming Regions

According to data from the Food and Agriculture Organization, in 2017 North America had the highest per capita fat supply out of any global region at 120 g/person/day. Oceania (Australia and the Pacific islands) came second at 116 g/person/day. Within these regions, the United States, Canada, and Australia all ranked among the top eight countries worldwide for total fat consumption per capita.

Europe as a whole averaged 119 g/person/day. Within Europe, Greece, Spain, France, Sweden, Germany, Italy, and the UK were among the nations with the highest fat supplies. Most of Southern and Eastern Europe maintain cuisines and culinary cultures that are high in animal fats, olive oil, nuts, cheese, and fatty fish. Northern European nations have strong historical traditions of dairy, meat, and fish consumption as well.

Latin America averaged 105 g/person/day as a region. Argentina came in at over 140 g/person/day, one of the highest in the world. Other South American nations like Chile, Uruguay, and Brazil also ranked relatively high for fat intake.

In comparison, the East, Southeast, and South Asian regions averaged from 42-66 g/person/day. Asian nations have collectively increased their fat consumption substantially from nutrition transition dynamics. However, traditional dietary patterns low in fat remain intact among many rural and lower-income groups. Africa averaged under 52 g/person/day, as many nations continue following traditional starch and plant-based diets.

Top 10 Highest Fat Consuming Countries

Here are the top 10 countries worldwide with the highest per capita daily fat supply according to 2017 FAO data:

Country Fat Supply (g/person/day)
United States 152.5
Australia 135.3
Spain 132.8
Greece 132.1
Argentina 144.2
Italy 130.9
France 129.2
Uruguay 127.6
Canada 125.6
Germany 122.6

Besides the prevalence of meat-centric diets, other factors that may contribute to high fat intake in these nations include:

  • High dairy consumption – cheese, milk, butter common in Northern European diets
  • Liberal use of oils – olive oil in Mediterranean, canola/vegetable oil in Northern nations
  • Affordable food systems – allows greater access to meat, dairy, oils across social classes
  • Processed/fast food consumption – burgers, fries, sweets, frozen meals high in fat

The Americas and Oceania also have very high supplies due to high red meat consumption and incorporation of processed and fried fast foods into national cuisines.

Highest-Fat Consuming World Regions

Looking more broadly at entire world regions, the 2017 per capita fat supply data shows:

Region Average Fat Supply (g/person/day)
North America 120
Oceania 116
Europe 119
Latin America/Caribbean 105
West Asia/North Africa 95
Central Asia 95
East Asia 90
Southeast Asia 66
South Asia 56
Sub-Saharan Africa 51

This data mirrors the influences discussed earlier. Traditions of meat, dairy and oil consumption have made the Americas, Europe, and Oceania the highest fat consuming regions today. Africa and Asia maintain lower intakes overall, but are moving upward due to nutrition transitions.

Trends and Predictions in Fat Intake

Global fat intake has risen drastically over the past 50 years. In the early 1960s, the worldwide average fat supply was around 57 g/person/day versus 81 g/person/day in 2017. Every region except Africa has at least doubled its fat consumption during this time frame. This reflects the rapid changes in food systems and diet patterns occurring around the world.

Projecting into the future, fat intake is expected to continue increasing globally as more developing nations undergo economic and nutrition transitions. Without intervention, this nutrition transition combined with growing populations will have serious health and environmental consequences.

On one hand, increased fat consumption is needed in parts of Africa and Asia to combat undernutrition. However, overnutrition from excessive saturated fats, refined oils, and processed foods must be prevented. Promoting traditional diets high in unrefined carbs, fiber, fruits and vegetables can help populous countries like China and India avoid surges in obesity and chronic diseases.

Sustainability is also a major concern, as meat and dairy production greatly increase land usage, water consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions compared to plant-based foods. Moderating meat intake and reducing food waste can help mitigate these impacts. Overall, a nuanced “middle path” approach is needed – increasing fats where deficiencies exist, but curbing overconsumption and promoting balanced, eco-conscious nutrition globally.


Fat intake varies widely between global cultures and cuisines, influenced by geography, economics, traditions, and demographic transitions. Data shows that North America, Oceania, Europe and South America currently lead fat consumption per capita. Diets in these regions are centered on liberal use of oils, dairy, and higher intakes of meat compared to Asian and African cultures. However, globalization and rising incomes are increasing fat supply across all developing nations through nutrition transition forces. Public health efforts to balance satisfactory fat intake with sustainability and disease prevention will become increasingly important worldwide.