British Journal of Nutrition

Dietary Surveys and Nutritional Epidemiology

The nutrition transition in the Republic of Ireland: trends in energy and nutrient supply from 1961 to 2007 using Food and Agriculture Organization food balance sheets

Tony Sheehya1 c1 and Sangita Sharmaa2

a1 School of Food and Nutritional Sciences, University College Cork, Cork, Republic of Ireland

a2 Department of Medicine, Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Alberta, 8308-114 Street, Edmonton, Alberta T6G 2V2, Canada


Over the course of the last 50 years the Republic of Ireland has gone from being one of the poorest countries in Europe to one of the richest; however, it is now experiencing increasing rates of obesity and non-communicable chronic disease. Although several national nutrition surveys have been carried out in Ireland since 1990, there is little information on the Irish diet before then. We analysed the FAO food balance sheets for Ireland from 1961 to 2007 in order to characterise the changes in energy and nutrient supply that took place during that period. Food balance sheets were downloaded from the FAOSTAT database and per capita supply of commodities was analysed using dietary analysis software. Energy from carbohydrate as a percentage of total energy fell from 55 % in 1961 to 46 % in 2007, whereas energy from fat increased from 29 % to 34 %; these values are well outside WHO recommendations for the prevention of chronic disease. Energy from alcohol as a percentage of total energy has doubled within the last 20 years. On a nutrient-density basis, vitamins and minerals met or exceeded WHO recommendations, apart from vitamin D, folate, Ca and Fe. Although there are methodological limitations associated with the use of food balance sheets, the present results demonstrate that the current imbalances in the Irish diet were already evident several decades ago. Because they are so long established, they will be difficult to reverse unless major public health nutrition interventions are implemented.

(Received September 29 2010)

(Revised February 16 2011)

(Accepted February 18 2011)

(Online publication April 12 2011)


c1 Corresponding author: Dr Tony Sheehy, fax +353 21 4270244, email


Abbreviations: NTD, neural tube defect; QFFQ, quantitative food-frequency questionnaire