LWL | Economic Stability and Nutritional Choices: A Comparative Study of Food Expenditure and Dietary Quality Across Different Development Levels

By Adishree Hada


Food is essential to human well-being, as it provides us with nourishment that ensures a longer lifespan. In contemporary times, as food habits are ever-changing and economic instability is rising, the intersection between wealth, health and societal development is pertinent to critically analyze. This research paper investigates the relationship between economic conditions and nutritional choices by analyzing the proportion of household income spent on food and the macronutrient composition of diets in developed, developing, and underdeveloped countries, aiming to understand how economic stability impacts dietary quality and overall health outcomes. This research paper examines the proportion of household income spent on food and the macronutrient composition of diets in developed, developing, and underdeveloped countries. The study aims to elucidate the intricate dynamics between economic conditions and nutritional choices.

Economic and nutritional relationships provide insight into the interactions between wealth, health, and societal well-being. Globally, economic factors have a significant impact on dietary choices and nutritional outcomes. The higher incomes of developed countries like the United States allow for a smaller percentage of household income to be spent on food, yet this economic advantage does not guarantee better health outcomes, as evidenced by high rates of obesity linked to dietary habits. A growing prevalence of obesity and undernutrition are both challenges in developing countries such as India, where a greater proportion of income is allocated to food due to economic constraints. This disparity underscores the complex impact of economic status on nutritional quality and health disparities within societies.

Proportion Of Income Spent on Food

The inverse relationship between the proportion of income spent on food and the level of development has been scrutinized by various scholars. This stems from the higher disposable incomes that engender a higher demand for luxuries and move beyond the essentials like food. This phenomenon is based on the economic concept derived by Ernst Engel, a German statistician, called ‘Engel’s law’, which states that the percentage of income allocated for food purchases decreases as a household's income rises, while the percentage spent on other things (such as education and recreation) increases. Using the data of three different types of development levels of countries categorized as; developed, developing and least developed by the United Nations.  Developed being the United States of America, developing being India and least developed being Myanmar. Integrating Using the data of these three classifications I am to prove the already understood consensus of the relationship between the proportion of income spent on food and the level of development. This research will go beyond this concept and discover the macronutrient composition of this spending on food discussed. It will explore the implications of nutritional level and test that while a country thrives economically and becomes richer with a high disposable income, does it improve the quality of life?

Descriptive Statistics 

In 2022, The total consumer expenditure in the United States (developed) was $50, 289, of which consumers spent only 6.7% on food, whereas in India (developing) the total consumer expenditure wasn$1,553, from which consumers spent 32.0%. The total consumer expenditure in Myanmar (underdeveloped) in 2022 was $592 from which consumers spent a whopping 56.4% on food. The data supports Engel’s Curve Theory which describes how household expenditure on a particular good or service varies with household income. 

Further evaluating this data for 5 years, the United States’ proportion of income spent on food in 2018 was 6.4%, in 2019 it was 6.2%, in 2020 it was 7.1%, in 2021 it was 6.7% and in 2022 it was 6.7%. The mean proportion of income spent on food is 6.62%, with a standard deviation of 0.34%. The extremely low variability shown by the standard deviation indicates a stable economic environment where the cost of food relative to income is consistent. This supports the characteristic of a developed economy where higher and more predictable incomes result in a relatively small and consistent proportion of income to be spent on food. 

India’s proportion of income spent on food in 2018 was 29.8%, in 2019 it was 27.2%, in 2020 it was 27.9%, in 2021 it was 32.1% and in 2022 it was 32.0%. The mean proportion of income spent on food is 29.8% with a standard deviation of 2.26%. The moderate variability suggests that there are fluctuations in the economy and emphasizes the characteristics of developing countries where economic stability and access to resources can be inconsistent. 

Similarly, Myanmar’s proportion of income spent on food in 2018 was 56.1%, in 2019 it was 55.9%, in 2020 it was 56.3%, in 2021 it was 56.6% and in 2022 it was 56.4%. The mean for this set of data is 56.26% with a standard deviation of 0.27%, indicating very low variability. The data shows the consistent economic condition where a large proportion of income is regularly required for food. 

This study's conclusions are relevant not only to the three countries that were analyzed but also to economies at various stages of growth. Engel's law is universal, which shows an inverse relationship between income levels and the share of income spent on sustenance. In developed countries with higher disposable incomes, such as the United States, food spending maintains a small and consistent proportion of total income, suggesting economic stability. In contrast, emerging and resource burden nations such as India and Myanmar dedicate a considerable amount of their income to food, signaling economic unpredictability and resource restrictions. These trends highlight the wider economic premise that when nations advance economically, their spending patterns change from needed commodities to luxuries, influencing dietary choices.

Macronutrient Composition

The macronutrient composition of a diet is the combination of key food groups such as carbohydrates, proteins, fats and fiber. This composition sheds light on the nutrition level of average diets in countries like the United States, India and Myanmar. It is already established that the United States spends the least proportion of income on food and Myanmar, spends the most, but does it affect the quality of life is the real question, where countries may be the most developed however consume fatty foods that in turn leads to a weak standard of living. 

Dietary reference intakes suggest that adults consume 45% to 65% of their total calories from carbohydrates, 20% to 35% from fat, and 10% to 35% from protein.


Despite economic affluence, the typical American diet, known as the Standard American Diet (SAD), is composed of around 50% carbs, 35% fats, and 15% protein. This macronutrient distribution and excessive intake of processed and fast meals have resulted in significant health problems. The accessibility and availability of high-calorie, low-nutrient meals contribute considerably to obesity, a global epidemic.


The typical Indian diet is carbohydrate-heavy, primarily sourced from cereals such as rice and wheat. The average daily intake includes 1943 Kcal with a macronutrient composition of 59.5% carbohydrates, 23.8% fats, and 16.7% proteins.


The overall national diet of Myanmar is heavily carbohydrate-based, predominantly sourced from cereals, especially rice. The average daily intake includes 1,572 Kcal, with a macronutrient composition of approximately 88.6% carbohydrates, 11.4% proteins, and varying proportions of fats between urban and rural populations. Data on macronutrient consumption indicates that a reduction in the consumption of carbohydrates was accompanied by increases in protein and fat consumption, as indicated in the declining share of carbohydrates at higher income quintiles. Comparing the Myanmar diet to WHO (World Health Organization) international standards for a balanced diet in terms of macronutrient contribution of energy, the Myanmar diet fell within recommended ranges for all macronutrients, which may indicate that food insecurity in Myanmar is not a function of dietary imbalance, but rather overall volume.


The data of this average macronutrient composition highlights a paradox between food consumption in lesser Developed nations such as Myanmar and India and food consumption in developed countries like United States. Despite spending a considerable percentage of its money on food, these countries maintain a balanced nutritional profile, conforming to international carbohydrate, protein, and fat intake guidelines. This contrasts with the scenario in economically flourishing nations such as the United States, where reduced relative food spending and easy availability of fast food have resulted in a diet high in fats and processed foods, resulting in widespread obesity and related health problems. As a result, while developing countries suffer economic issues, its food patterns perhaps may sustain a higher standard of life in terms of nutrition than the United States, where economic success does not always translate into better nutritional health. Therefore, this indicated that food insecurity in Myanmar and India are more related to the volume of food rather than dietary imbalance. 


Literature Review 

The study on economics, nutrition, and health outcomes demonstrates a complex link influenced by disparities in socioeconomic status and dietary shifts in many worldwide contexts. Developed nations often have lower amounts of household income dedicated to food expenditure, indicating economic stability and diverse consumption habits beyond fundamental requirements. In contrast, developing countries devote a greater proportion of their income on food, highlighting economic constraints that frequently result in limited access to healthy meals and a higher prevalence of undernutrition among vulnerable people (Smith, 2019; FAO, 2018).

Conversely, greater economic affluence in industrialized nations is associated with increased consumption of energy-dense, processed foods, which contributes to the incidence of obesity and diet-related noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). This dietary change highlights the complicated interplay between income, lifestyle choices, and health consequences, in which economic


This dietary change highlights the complicated interplay between disposable income, lifestyle choices, and health outcomes, in which economic luxury does not always translate into greater nutritional health. Addressing these concerns requires customized policy initiatives that promote better food environments, increase nutritional knowledge, and reduce socioeconomic gaps to improve general population health (Popkin, 2017; Darmon & Drewnowski, 2008). Future research should focus on successful solutions that combine economic development and public health activities to create equal health outcomes throughout the world.



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