A SCANR How-To Guide to Food Balance Sheets


Food Balance Sheets, created and maintained by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), are a frequently used database for agriculture, nutrition, and health research. The Food Balance Sheets provide information on supply and utilization at the country level for primary (e.g., fruits, vegetable) and processed (e.g., vegetable oil, cheese) food commodities, as well as per capita availability of energy, protein, and fat for consumption. These country level data are collected from governmental organizations and standardized. Unavailable data and missing values are extrapolated using formulas based on country regional surveys and technical expertise within FAO. Thus, the Food Balance Sheets are an aggregated dataset that estimates and reflects the foods available for human consumption. These data can be used to understand food and agricultural affairs, estimate overall shortages and surpluses, and make projections of a country’s future food supply needs.

Note: Food Balance Sheet data is limited in that its production statistics are mostly confined to major commercial food crops, as listed here. Therefore, home production such as gardening, subsistence farming, and food from hunting and fishing for individual households are not included in Food Balance Sheets.


Old vs New Food Balance Sheets

There are two versions of the Food Balance Sheets – the old version contains data from 1961 to 2013; the new version contains data from 2014 to the most recent year available. The New Food Balance Sheets include balancer variables and revised population figures. Balancer variables assume that the supply of food will all be utilized, meaning that all commodity variables are “balanced” in the supply and demand. By doing so, the new Food Balance Sheets can reduce discrepancies between data sources, data collection and methods, and measurement errors. Further, the New Food Balance Sheets use population data collected in 2019 by the United Nations Procurement Division (UNPD), whereas the old Food Balance Sheets use 2015 UNPD population data. There are other inclusions to the new Food Balance Sheets, such as the addition of “Tourist” and “Industrial non-food use” variables. For more information look their metadata page: http://www.fao.org/faostat/en/#data/FBS/metadata.


Using Food Balance Sheets

You can find the link to the Food Balance Sheets on the SCANR Research Guidance Data Repositories section. FAO’s FAOSTAT data repository includes the Food Balance Sheets. From FAOSTAT, click on Explore Data. In the Food Balance Section, you can find the old and new Food Balance Sheets. FAO has standardized the variables across the old and new Food Balance Sheets, so these datasets can be easily combined.

There are many resources online about using Food Balance Sheets. For more information about Food Balance Sheets, check out these sites:

  • MIT: A section of MIT’s open course provides a brief overview of the Food Balance Sheets.
  • INDDEX: The International Dietary Data Expansion project provides an overarching outline of strength and weakness of Food Balance Sheets.  
  • OECD: The OECD provides a concise definitional information of Food Balance Sheets.
  • FAO: The slide created by FAO provides a comprehensive understanding of the Food Balance Sheets and how to best use them.

SCANR tip: Besides Food Balance Sheets, another useful database is the Production Supply and Distribution (PS&D) database maintained by the USDA. PS&D provides data on agricultural commodities for key producing and consuming countries. Unlike FBS, PS&D records their data based on marketing year as commodities are produced and marketed. For more information and access to PS&D, click here.


Food Balance Sheets in Research

The Food Balance Sheets is are an important dataset for a variety of research topics in agriculture, food systems, nutrition, and health. Below are some examples of research and visualizations that utilize FBS:

Peer-reviewed research:

  • Arsenault et al. (2015). Improving nutrition security through agriculture: an analytical framework based on national food balance sheets to estimate nutritional adequacy of food supplies (https://doi.org/10.1007/s12571-015-0452-y) uses food balance sheets to estimate the impact of food production and supply on nutrient adequacy.
  • Sheehy et al. (2019). Trends in energy and nutrient supply in Ethiopia: a perspective from FAO food balance sheets (https://doi.org/10.1186/s12937-019-0471-1) uses food balance sheets to examine the changing composition of food supply and understand the nutrition transition of Ethiopia.  
  • Rosalind et al. (2012). Using reference nutrient density goals with food balance sheet data to identify likely micronutrient deficits for fortification planning in countries in the western pacific region (https://doi.org/10.1177/15648265120333S210) uses food balance sheets to identify possible micronutrient deficits in national diets.

Blogs and reports:


This data guide was prepared by Hyomin Lee, MS Candidate at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. May 6, 2022.