76% of rural Indians can’t afford a nutritious diet: study

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

Updated - December 04, 2021 10:32 pm IST

Published - October 17, 2020 07:25 pm IST - NEW DELHI

File photo for representation.

File photo for representation.

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.

Also read:India fares poorly in hunger index

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.

Also read:The Hindu Explains | How did the National Institute of Nutrition arrive at the ‘ideal’ weight of Indian men and women?

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

Also read:

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.

Also read:

“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.

Although their data ended in 2011, since when both food prices and wages have risen, the study’s authors recommended that the government develop a similar tool to monitor dietary costs and affordability of nutritious meals. Currently, food costs are measured through consumer price indices (CPIs) which weight foods by expenditure shares. “In poor countries such as India, CPIs are heavily weighted towards nutrient-sparse starchy staples, meaning that trends in the food CPI can be misleading from a nutritional standpoint,” said the paper.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.