America has the fattest population of any industrialized nation, with two-thirds being overweight and one-third fully obese. And yet Americans spend far less of their income on food compared to many other developed countries.
Writing for The Huffington Post, Joe Satran suggests the explanation is Engel’s Law, an economic principle that says people will tend to spend a smaller and smaller portion of their income on food as they get richer.
Despite the recession, Satran argues Americans still have among the largest average disposable incomes of any country in the world, and concludes that Americans may just spend more than the French, on TVs and cars, which makes our food spending look small by comparison.
Satran’s conclusion about Americans having the most disposable income is debatable, considering that when it comes to middle-class wealth, America actually ranks number 27 in the world.
Nevertheless, The Huffington Post tested their theory, and used data from the USDA and EuroMonitor International and calculated the total amount that residents of various countries around the world spend on food at home, dining out, alcohol and tobacco, and basically everything you ingest.
They found Americans spend far less in absolute terms than the residents of many other countries on comestibles (any substance that can be used as food).
Satran adds that it’s not just Engel’s Law at work, but supply-side economic factors at play.
“Many European countries place high taxes on retail items like food and have high minimum wage laws that push the cost of restaurant meals up. And it’s expensive to ship food to places like Australia and Hong Kong.”
Cultural factors are likely at work too, but Satran claims “Americans just don’t love to eat, drink and smoke as much as people living in many of the other countries on the list.”
19. United States of America — $4,431 per person in 2012
Spending on food at home: $2274
Spending on restaurant meals: $1485
Spending on tobacco and alcohol: $673
Fun fact: Americans spent an average of $649.50 on fast food in 2012, more than the residents of any other country.