Fascinating figures about gender and food

Studies show that women’s and men’s dietary habits differ to a certain extent. Research also suggests that there are differences in the amount of food that women throw out compared to men. Figures for the different Nordic countries are presented below.

Fascinating figures about gender and food

Scandinavian research indicates that, on average, men’s diets contain more potatoes, meat and margarine, while women’s diets feature more fruit, vegetables and cultured-milk products (1).

139 grams of meat per day?

Below we provide a closer look at the research conducted on the eating habits of women and men in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden. In many cases, the studies point to very similar trends. In the case of meat, Danish statistics show that women eat 81 grams of meat per day, compared to men’s 139 grams per day. Figures from Finland indicate that men eat twice as much meat and sandwich meat as women. For fish, the differences are smaller. According to statistics, men in Denmark, Finland and Norway eat somewhat more fish than women. In Denmark men eat, on average, 23 grams of fish per day per, while women eat 19 grams per day. The figures for Finland are 43 grams for men and 37 for women, and in Norway72 grams for men and 58 for women. In Sweden, women eat slightly more fish than men do.

All of this can be seen in table below, which provides an overview of the statistics from these four Nordic countries. Because in some cases the studies and food group classifications differed, not all of the figures are comparable. However, it is possible to see the similarity in the trends of how women and men in these countries consume food. The table below includes the food groups in which, according to studies, men eat larger quantities (2):

Dietary habits by gender (F/M) in Denmark (D), Finland (F), Norway (N) and Sweden (S) (grams/day)

  D   F   N   S  
  F M F M F M F M
Dairy products and curd milk 304 345 71 143 363 518 311 376
Meat 81 139 20 41 87 125 97 129
Fish 19 23 37 43 58 72 35 34
Potatoes 79 130 47 74 100 147 116 168
Bread and cereal 187 243 67 105 198 284 85 116
Cheese 29 37 20 28 30 32 28 31
Margarine, butter 29 42 15 25 28 42 12 23

The trend is the same in the case of milk and dairy products – men in Denmark, Finland, Norwayand Sweden eat more of them than women. However, some studies have found that women consume more yoghurt and fat-free milk (3). Others show that men inFinlandeat twice the amount of dairy products compared to women. InNorway, men eat 30 percent more of dairy products, compared to women.

Men also eat more potatoes than women per day; the greatest difference was found in Denmark, where men ate 130 grams of potatoes and women 79 grams. With regard to bread, which in some cases also included cereal products, men in Norway ate on average 30 percent more per day, compared to women – 284 grams among men and 198 grams among women. The trend was similar in statistics from Denmark, Finland and Sweden. Men were also bigger consumers of margarine and butter. In Denmark, men consumed 31 percent more margarine and butter compared to women; in Finland the figure was 40 percent, in Norway 33 percent and in Sweden 48 percent.

Women consume more fruit and vegetables

On the other hand, women eat more vegetables and fruit. Studies from the four Nordic countries showed similar results: women eat between 13 and 26 percent more vegetables and greens compared to men. The greatest differences were found in Sweden, where women ate 113 grams of vegetable per day on average, compared to men’s 84 grams. If we examine the figures for the amount of fruit (in some cases including berries and juice) women and men eat and drink, women’s consumption exceeds that of men in most cases: in Denmark it was 23 percent greater, in Finland 26 percent greater and in Sweden 27 percent greater among women than among men. In Norway, on the other hand, the difference was only 3 percent. (4). See the table below:

Fruit and vegetables
  D   F   N   S  
  F M F M F M F M
Vegetables (excl potatoes) 167 146 91 70 146 123 113 84
Fruit (in some cases incl berries and juices) 229 176 152 112 225 218 148 104

Women in single households throw away the most food

A Finnish study looking at the amount of food discarded annually showed that the items most commonly ending up in the rubbish bin were vegetables, home-made foods and dairy products, for example because they had gone bad or passed their use-before date. A number of factors influence the amount of food that is discarded, but looking at the per-person amount of discarded food, women in single households clearly throw out the most (5). Per person, they discard more than individual members of family-households or men living in single households, as shown in the table below:

Food discarded in Finland (kg/person/year)
Single-person households, women 30
Single-person households, all 27
Families with children 22
Two-adult households 21
Single-person households, men 21

Women in single-person households throw away on average 30 kilograms of food annually, while the average for all single-person households was 27 kilograms. A family with children discards an average of 22 kilograms per person annually, while a two-person household disposes somewhat less, on average 21 kilograms per person per year. A man living alone throws away on average 21 kilograms of food annually, the same amount per year as a two-person household. In other words, women living alone throw out 9 kilograms more food annually than men who live alone.

The Finnish study also showed that in multiple-person households, from the perspective of how much food was being thrown away, it made a difference who was buying it in the first place. When women did the shopping, more food was thrown out, compared to when the man or the man and woman together purchased the food (6), as shown in the table below:

Who bought the food? Discarded food (kg/person/year)
Female 26
Together or taking turns 19
Male 18


Illustration: Colourbox

(1)    Fagt et al. 2008, Roos 2011

(2)    Fagt et al. 2008: 48, MTT 2008: s 35, 40, Johnsson & Solvoll 1999: 29, Livsmedelsverket 2007

(3)    Roos 2011

(4)    Fagt et al. 2008: 48, MTT 2008: s 35 & 40, Johnsson&Solvoll 1999: 29, Livsmedelsverket 2007: http://www.slv.se/en-gb/Group1/Food-and-Nutrition/Dietary-surveys1/Riksmaten-1997-98-Dietary-habits-and-nutrient-intake-in-Sweden/

(5)    MTT 2010

(6)   MTT 2010:23



Fagt, S. et al. 2008.Danskernes kostvaner 1995 – 2006, status og udvikling, med fokus på frugt og grønt samt sukker[Dietary habits in Denmark1995 – 2006, status and development, with a focus on fruit and greens, and sugar]. DTU Fødevareinstituttet, Afdeling for Ernæring.

Johansson, L., Solvoll, K. 1999.Norkost 1997. Landsomfattende kostholdsundersøkelse blant menn og kvinner i alderen 16-79 år. Statens råd for ernæring og fysisk aktivitet.

Livsmedelsverket 2007: http://www.slv.se/en-gb/Group1/Food-and-Nutrition/Dietary-surveys1/Riksmaten-1997-98-Dietary-habits-and-nutrient-intake-in-Sweden/)

MTT (Forskningscentralen för jordbruk och livsmedelsekonomi i Finland / Agrifood Research Finland). 2010. Ruokahävikin määrä ja vähentämiskeinot elintarvikeketjussa.[Food waste and ways of decreasing it in the food chain] www.mtt.fi/foodspill

MTT (Forskningscentralen för jordbruk och livsmedelsekonomi i Finland / Agrifood Research Finland). 2008. Finravinto 2007 – tutkimus. The National FINDIET 2007 Survey. Kansanterveyslaitoksen julkaisuja/ Publications of the National Public Health Institute

Roos, G. 2011.Vad äter kvinnor och män? [What do women and men eat?] Presentation in side-event about gender, climate change and sustainable development during the Solutions Conference in Turku, 31st January - 2nd February 2011]