Assessing national nutrition security: The UK reliance on imports to meet population energy and nutrient recommendations

Jennie Macdiarmid* (Corresponding Author), Heather Clark, Stephen Whybrow, Henri De Ruiter, Geraldine McNeill

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)
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Nutrition security describes the adequacy of the food supply to meet not only energy but also macronutrient and micronutrient requirements for the population. The aim of this study was to develop a method to assess trends in national nutrition security and the contribution of imports to nutrition security, using the UK as a case study. Food supply data from FAO food balance sheets and national food composition tables were used to estimate the nutrient content of domestically produced food, imported food and exported food. Nutrition security was defined as the total nutrient supply (domestic production, minus exports, plus imports) to meet population-level nutrient requirements. The results showed that the UK was nutrition secure over the period 1961–2011 for energy, macronutrients and key micronutrients, with the exception of total carbohydrates and fibre, which may be due to the loss of fibre incurred by processing cereals into refined products. The supply of protein exceeded population requirements and could be met with domestic production alone. Even excluding all meat there was sufficient protein for population requirements. The supply of total fat, saturated fat and sugar considerably exceeded the current dietary recommendation. As regards nutrition security in 2010, the UK was reliant on imported foods to meet energy, fibre, total carbohydrate, iron, zinc and vitamin A requirements. This analysis demonstrates the importance of including nutrients other than energy to determine the adequacy of the food supply. The methodology also provides an alternative perspective on food security and self-sufficiency by assessing the dependency on imports to meet population level nutritional requirements.
Original languageEnglish
Article number0192649
JournalPloS ONE
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 28 Feb 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding: The author(s) received no specific funding for this work. JIM and SW acknowledge funding from the Scottish Government’s Rural and Environment Science Analytical Services Strategic Research Programme. HC acknowledges funding from the Fondation Daniel & Nina Carasso. This work contributes to the Belmont Forum/FACCE-JPI funded DEVIL project (Natural Environment Research Council grant number NE/M021327/1) (JIM). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.


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