Shrinking Portions: Visualizing Rising Food Prices
The Global Food Price Index Continues Rising in 2021
Food expenditures as a portion of disposable income have trended downwards in the U.S. for more than 50 years, but the trend could be reversing as food prices have risen sharply over the past months.
Since June 2020, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) food price index has risen for nine consecutive months, with almost every food group setting new three-year highs in 2021. If the trend continues, food prices could begin to outpace income growth and monetary support from governments.
The one outlier in changing food prices has been meat prices, which have lagged behind with a minimal increase since mid-2020.
This graphic tracks the FAO’s food price indices along with their year-over-year (YoY) changes, showing the rapid price increases many of our staple food groups have had over the past year.
The Rising Food Prices of 2020 and 2021
Over the past five years, the FAO’s food price index has fluctuated by a few percentage points, but the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic brought significant volatility.
Sugar and vegetable oils saw the largest changes, dropping by double-digit percentages (-19.2% and -12.4% respectively) in March of 2020, before recovering with the strongest overall price surges of the various food groups.
Food Price Indices Month-over-Month Change
|Date||Food Price Index MoM Change||Meat Price Index MoM Change||Dairy Price Index MoM Change||Cereals Price Index MoM Change||Vegetable Oils Price Index MoM Change||Sugar Price Index MoM Change|
The food price index increased by almost 17% YoY going into 2021, and while dairy, cereals, sugar, and vegetable oil prices all increased by double-digit percentages, meat prices rose less than 1% on average in 2021.
Surging Demand for Food at Home Drives Higher Prices
Although food prices have always fluctuated depending on weather conditions and global trade affecting food supply, this year’s increases were especially driven by a weakening U.S. dollar and increased demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic resulted in severe changes to the world’s eating habits, with restaurant walk-ins and reservations down by more than 60% while demand for food at home increased as people stocked up on essentials.
To go alongside this, trade and supply chain disruptions in essential agricultural materials like fertilizer resulted in an inconsistent output from farmers and food producers, causing issues right as demand surged.
Meat and Dairy Prices Aren’t Keeping Up
As other food prices rise, the lack of significant increases in meat prices could reflect the avoidance of more expensive food products during tighter times, a lack of supply chain disruptions and constraints compared to agricultural sectors, or a larger societal trend of reduced animal product consumption.
Although dairy prices increased by 10% YoY in 2021, this increase was less than half of the price increases of cereals and sugar (21.7% and 22.3% respectively), and less than a quarter of vegetable oils prices which rose by 44%.
Plant-based alternatives are rapidly growing in popularity as nearly one in four Americans are reducing their meat consumption while veganism is rising in select European nations. Interestingly, despite these trends, 2020 also saw U.S. meat purchases rise as 43% of Americans have been buying more meat since the start of the pandemic.
Fighting the Fear of Inflating Food Prices
Whether meat prices catch up soon or not, the general trend of rising food prices poses a new inflationary pressure upon people around the world.
With in-restaurant dining taking a backseat, the increased prices are felt by everyone as they stock their cupboards, and inflation fears have been brewing as nations make their way out of the pandemic.
Rising government deficits and an increasing money supply represent efforts by governments to support citizens and national economies, but could ultimately be a key factor fueling the rising food prices.
One thing is certain, if food prices continue rising by double-digit percentages in the coming months and years, incomes and government support will struggle to keep up.
Visualizing the World’s Largest Steel-Producing Countries
China has dominated global steel production the past few decades, but how did the country get here, and is its production growth over?
The Largest Steel-Producing Countries: Visualized
Steel is a critical component of modern industry and economy, essential for the construction of buildings, automobiles, and many other appliances and infrastructure used in our daily lives.
This graphic uses data from the World Steel Association to visualize the world’s top steel-producing countries, and highlights China’s ascent to the top, as it now makes up more than half of the world’s steel production.
The State of Global Steel Production
Global steel production in 2022 reached 1,878 million tonnes, barely surpassing the pre-pandemic production of 1,875 million tonnes in 2019.
|Country||2022 Production (in million tonnes)||Annual Production Change||Global Share|
|🇺🇸 United States||80.5||-6.5%||4.3%|
|🇰🇷 South Korea||65.9||-6.9%||3.5%|
|Rest of World||201.0||-11.2%||10.7%|
2022’s steel production marked a significant reduction compared to the post-pandemic rebound of 1,960 million tonnes in 2021, with a year-over-year decline of 4.2%–the largest drop since 2009, and prior to that, 1991.
This decline was spread across many of the world’s top steel producers, with only three of the top fifteen countries, India, Iran, and Indonesia, increasing their yearly production. Most of the other top steel-producing countries saw annual production declines of more than 5%, with Turkey, Italy, Taiwan, and Vietnam’s production all declining by double digits.
Even the world’s top steel-producing nation, China, experienced a modest 2% decline, which due to the country’s large production amounted to a decline of 19.8 million tonnes, more than many other nations produce in a year.
Despite India, the world’s second-largest steel producer, increasing its production by 5.3%, the country’s output still amounts to just over one-tenth of the steel produced by China.
China’s Meteoric Rise in Steel Production
Although China dominates the world’s steel production with more than a 54% share today, this hasn’t always been the case.
In 1967, the World Steel Association’s first recorded year of steel production figures, China only produced an estimated 14 million tonnes, making up barely 3% of global output. At that time, the U.S. and the USSR were competing as the world’s top steel producers at 115 and 102 million tonnes respectively, followed by Japan at 62 million tonnes.
Almost three decades later in 1996, China had successively overtaken Russia, the U.S., and Japan to become the top steel-producing nation with 101 million tonnes of steel produced that year.
The early 2000s marked a period of rapid growth for China, with consistent double-digit percentage increases in steel production each year.
The Recent Decline in China’s Steel Production
Since the early 2000s, China’s average annual growth in steel production has slowed to 3.4% over the last decade (2013-2022), a considerable decline compared to the previous decade’s (2003-2012) 15.2% average annual growth rate.
The past couple of years have seen China’s steel production decline, with 2021 and 2022 marking the first time the country’s production fell for two consecutive years in a row.
While it’s unlikely China will relinquish its position as the top steel-producing nation anytime soon, it remains to be seen whether this recent decline marks the beginning of a new trend or just a brief deviation from the country’s consistent production growth.
Mapped: Air Pollution Levels Around the World in 2022
Exploring 2022 average air pollution levels around the world by PM2.5 concentration.
Mapped: Air Pollution Levels Around the World
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that air pollution leads to 7 million premature deaths every year.
Out of the six common air pollutants, particulate matter measuring 2.5 microns or smaller in diameter, or PM2.5, is accepted as the most harmful to human health. This is due to its prevalence in the atmosphere and the broad range of adverse health effects associated with its exposure, such as heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and chronic respiratory diseases.
With that context in mind, this visualization uses IQAir’s World Air Quality Report to map out the 2022 average PM2.5 concentrations in select major cities around the globe, expressed in micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m³).
Understanding the WHO Air Pollution Guidelines
Did you know that in 2019, only 1% of the global population lived in places where WHO global air quality guidelines were met?
Designed to protect public health from the harmful effects of air pollution, the guidelines cover a range of air pollutants, including particulate matter, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and carbon monoxide.
The healthy limits for PM2.5 are set at an annual average of 0-5 μg/m³.
|WHO Classification||Annual Average PM2.5 Concentration (μg/m³)||% of countries within classification, 2022*|
|WHO Air Quality Guideline||0 - 5||9.9%|
|Interim Target 4||5.1 - 10||18.3%|
|Interim Target 3||10.1 - 15||19.8%|
|Interim Target 2||15.1 - 25||28.2%|
|Interim Target 1||25.1 - 35||9.9%|
|Exceeds Target Levels||35.1 - 50||7.6%|
|Exceeds Target Levels||> 50||6.1%|
*Percentages are calculated as a proportion of the 131 countries that had sufficient air quality data and were included in IQAir’s World Air Quality Report in 2022.
According to IQAir’s World Air Quality Report, only 13 countries or territories met the recommended concentration of PM2.5 in 2022. Among them were Australia, Finland, Puerto Rico, Iceland, Bermuda, and Guam.
Above this guideline, many countries fell within the four interim targets, while nearly 14% recorded air pollution levels that exceeded all target levels.
The Effects of Air Quality on Mortality
While it can be a little difficult to grasp what the above concentrations represent, thinking of them in terms of their effect on mortality can shed some light on their significance.
According to the WHO, non-accidental mortality rates multiply by 1.08 per 10 µg/m³ increase in PM2.5 concentration, but only up to 35 μg/m³. Above that, mortality growth rates may not be linear, resulting in many more deaths.
Here is an example to highlight what that means.
- Say that, for a population living within the WHO PM2.5 guideline, the non-accidental mortality rate is arbitrarily set to 100 deaths for a given period.
- If this area’s PM2.5 concentration goes up to 10 μg/m³, putting them at Interim Target 4, they would see 104 deaths in that same amount of time.
- At Interim Target 3, where their PM2.5 concentration would be 15 μg/m³, they would see 108 deaths.
- At Interim Target 2, they’d see 117.
- Finally, at Interim Target 1, they’d see 126.
Beyond Interim Target 1 (above 35 μg/m³), deaths would potentially grow much faster. As of 2022, around 14% of countries report levels above this threshold, including Chad, India, Pakistan, Qatar, and Nigeria.
The State of Air Pollution Around the World
While many cities in North America and Europe have seen steady and relatively lower PM2.5 concentrations during the last few years, many cities (especially those in Asia) have been making strides in lowering their air pollution levels.
Nonetheless, many of them still record PM2.5 concentrations that are more than six times the WHO guideline.
|City||2022 annual average PM2.5 concentration (μg/m³)||2018 annual average PM2.5 concentration (μg/m³)|
|🇪🇬 Cairo, Egypt||47.4||N/A|
|🇮🇳 Mumbai, India||46.7||58.6|
|🇦🇪 Dubai, UAE||43.7||55.3|
|🇮🇩 Jakarta, Indonesia||36.2||45.3|
|🇳🇬 Lagos, Nigeria||36.1||N/A|
|🇨🇳 Beijing, China||29.8||50.9|
|🇵🇪 Lima, Peru||25.6||28|
|🇲🇽 Mexico City, Mexico||22.1||19.7|
|🇨🇳 Guangzhou, China||21.3||33.2|
|🇵🇭 Manila, Philippines||14.6||N/A|
|🇦🇷 Buenos Aires, Argentina||14.2||12.4|
|🇸🇬 Singapore, Singapore||13.3||14.8|
|🇮🇹 Rome, Italy||12.6||N/A|
|🇰🇪 Nairobi, Kenya||11.5||N/A|
|🇷🇺 Moscow, Russia||10.8||10.1|
|🇧🇷 Rio de Janeiro, Brazil||10.6||N/A|
|🇺🇸 Los Angeles, USA||10.5||14.4|
|🇺🇸 New York, USA||9.9||N/A|
|🇬🇧 London, UK||9.6||12|
|🇯🇵 Tokyo, Japan||9.2||13.1|
|🇨🇦 Toronto, Canada||8.5||7.8|
|🇨🇦 Vancouver, Canada||7.6||N/A|
|🇳🇴 Oslo, Norway||6.9||8.2|
|🇿🇦 Cape Town, South Africa||6.7||N/A|
|🇺🇸 Miami, USA||6.4||7.8|
|🇦🇺 Perth, Australia||4.9||N/A|
|🇦🇺 Sydney, Australia||3.1||7.6|
Most parts of the world did not meet the annual WHO recommendation for clean and healthy air in 2022.
However, the cost of inaction toward cleaner air is very high. In addition to the millions of premature deaths each year, the global cost of health damages associated with air pollution currently sits at $8.1 trillion.
Unfortunately, things that are integral to our quality of life, such as industrial activities, transportation, energy production, and agricultural practices, are also the leading causes of air pollution around the world.
As such, a multi-faceted approach to lowering pollution is essential to protect lives, especially to benefit those already more vulnerable to poor air quality, such as kids and the elderly.
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