‘76% of ru­ral In­di­ans can’t af­ford nu­tri­tious diet’

The Hindu - - FRONT PAGE - Spe­cial Cor­re­spon­dent

Three out of four ru­ral In­di­ans can­not af­ford a nu­tri­tious diet, ac­cord­ing to a paper re­cently pub­lished in jour­nal Food Policy.

Even if they spent their en­tire in­come on food, al­most two out of three of them would not have the money to pay for the cheap­est pos­si­ble diet that meets the re­quire­ments set by the govern­ment’s premier nu­tri­tion body, it says.

Un­like the Eco­nomic Sur­vey’s ‘Thali­nomics’, which pro­vided a rosier pic­ture of meal costs, this study uses the wages of un­skilled work­ers who make up a larger pro­por­tion of the pop­u­la­tion than in­dus­trial work­ers, and in­cludes items such as dairy, fruit and dark green leafy veg­eta­bles that are es­sen­tial as per In­dia’s of­fi­cial di­etary guide­lines.

The paper, ti­tled “Af­ford­abil­ity of nu­tri­tious di­ets in ru­ral In­dia”, is au­thored by In­ter­na­tional Food Policy Re­search In­sti­tute econ­o­mist Kalyani Raghu­nathan and oth­ers.

The study uses the lat­est avail­able food price and wage in­for­ma­tion from the Na­tional Sam­ple Sur­vey’s 2011 dataset.

The find­ings are sig­nif­i­cant in the light of the fact that In­dia per­forms abysmally on many nu­tri­tion in­di­ca­tors even while the coun­try claims to have achieved food se­cu­rity. On Fri­day, the Global Hunger In­dex showed that In­dia has the world’s high­est preva­lence of child wast­ing, re­flect­ing acute un­der­nu­tri­tion. On in­di­ca­tors that sim­ply mea­sure calo­rie in­take, In­dia per­forms rel­a­tively bet­ter, but they do not ac­count for the nu­tri­tion value of those calo­ries.

The Na­tional In­sti­tute for Nu­tri­tion’s guide­lines for a nu­tri­tion­ally ad­e­quate diet call for adult women to eat 330 gm of ce­re­als and 75 gm of pulses a day, along with 300 gm of dairy, 100 gm of fruit, and 300 gm of veg­eta­bles, which should in­clude at least 100 gm of dark green leafy veg­eta­bles. Se­lect­ing the cheap­est op­tions from ac­tual In­dian di­ets — wheat, rice, ba­jra, milk, curd, onions, radish, spinach, ba­nanas — the study cal­cu­lated that a day’s meals would cost ₹45 (or ₹51 for an adult man).

Even if they spent all their in­come on food, 63.3% of the ru­ral pop­u­la­tion or more than 52 crore In­di­ans would not be able to af­ford that nu­tri­tious meal. If they set aside just a third of their in­come for non-food ex­penses, 76% of ru­ral In­di­ans would not be able to af­ford the rec­om­mended diet. This does not even ac­count for the meals of non-earn­ing mem­bers of a house­hold, such as chil­dren or older adults.

“These num­bers are some­what spec­u­la­tive, but they do re­veal the scale of the di­etary af­ford­abil­ity prob­lem in ru­ral In­dia: nu­tri­tious di­ets are too ex­pen­sive, and in­comes far too low,” says the paper.

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