Measuring hunger across States

An India-specific hunger index at the level of States and Union Territories helps evaluate the extent of undernourishment at a more localised scale

Updated - December 07, 2023 01:08 am IST

Published - September 04, 2023 02:00 am IST

According to the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report of 2022, India is home to 224.3 million undernourished people.  File

According to the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report of 2022, India is home to 224.3 million undernourished people.  File | Photo Credit: The Hindu

Despite being a major food producer with extensive food security schemes and the largest public distribution system in the world, India still grapples with significant levels of food insecurity, hunger, and child malnutrition. The Global Hunger Index (GHI), 2022, ranked India 107 among 121 countries, behind Nigeria (103) and Pakistan (99). The GHI provides a composite measurement and tracks undernourishment and hunger at the national level across three dimensions: calorie undernourishment, child malnutrition, and under-five mortality.

According to the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report of 2022, India is home to 224.3 million undernourished people. Disparities are evident among States. Leveraging subnational data that encompasses the three dimensions of the GHI enables the development of an India-specific hunger index at the level of States and Union Territories. This plays a pivotal role in evaluating the extent of undernourishment at a more localised scale, which is critical for meeting the Sustainable Development Goals of eradicating hunger and malnutrition.

The State Hunger Index

The GHI is computed using four indicators — the prevalence of calorie undernourishment; and of stunting, wasting, and mortality among children below the age of five; and under-five mortality rate. The State Hunger Index (SHI) is calculated using the same indicators except calorie undernourishment, which is replaced by body mass index (BMI) undernourishment among the working-age population, as data on calorie undernourishment are not available since 2012.

Data for stunting, wasting, and mortality among children below the age of five are sourced from the fifth round of the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5), while the prevalence of BMI undernourishment is computed using NFHS-5 (2019-21) and Wave 1 of the Longitudinal Ageing Study in India (2017-18). The calculation of the SHI score involves combining the normalised values of the four indicators using the techniques recommended by the GHI. The SHI scores range between 0 and 100, with higher scores indicating more hunger. Scores below 10 signify low hunger, 10-20 moderate, 20-30 serious, 30-40 alarming, and 50 or above extremely alarming.

In the SHI, Bihar, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh scored 35, which places them in the ‘alarming’ category. Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Tripura, Maharashtra, and West Bengal all scored above the national average (29). The performance of these States resembles that of African nations such as Haiti, Niger, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. On the other hand, Chandigarh scored 12, and Sikkim, Puducherry, and Kerala all scored below 16. These States, along with Manipur, Mizoram, Punjab, Delhi, Arunachal Pradesh, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and Tamil Nadu, fall under the ‘moderate hunger’ category. All the other States, which scored below the national average and above 20, have a problem of ‘serious hunger’. No State falls under the ‘low hunger’ category. The impact of COVID-19 on the SHI is not captured here since post-pandemic estimates are not yet available.

In 2008, Purnima Menon, Anil Deolalikar, and Anjor Bhaskar made a comparable effort to grasp the variation in hunger at a subnational level using the then methodology of computing GHI. Among the 17 States they assessed, Punjab led the list, with Kerala and Andhra Pradesh following closely as top performers. On the other hand, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Bihar, and Chhattisgarh were ranked as the least-performing States.

Over the last half a decade, India’s GHI score has deteriorated primarily due to the increasing prevalence of calorie undernourishment. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, the proportion of calorie undernourishment in India has been escalating since 2017, reaching 16.3% in 2020, equivalent to the 2009 statistic. The Indian government has disputed these conclusions by raising concerns about the data and methodology used in calculating the GHI. However, it has not been able to provide empirical evidence to support its claims. Notably, no National Sample Survey (NSS) round on nutritional intake has been conducted by the government since 2011-12, which used to offer insights into the prevalence of calorie undernourishment at national and subnational levels. In the 78th round of the NSS conducted in 2020-21, four key questions were included to gauge household food insecurity. Unfortunately, information on these is missing from the NSS report.

What is the Global Hunger Index and how is it calculated?

Facing the reality

While the GHI has faced significant criticism from experts regarding its conceptualisation, indicator selection, and aggregation methods, it does provide critical insight into the state of undernourishment and child nutrition. India’s poor performance in the GHI is primarily attributed to its high prevalence of undernourishment and child malnutrition. India ranks unfavourably in child wasting, performing worse than many low-income African nations. The NFHS-5 indicated that one-third of children under the age of five are stunted and underweight, while every fifth child suffers from wasting. Despite India’s notable progress in alleviating extreme poverty over the last 15 years, as indicated by the recent National Multidimensional Poverty Index, challenges persist in addressing the disparity in food insecurity, hunger, and child malnutrition.

Nandlal Mishra is a doctoral fellow at the International Institute for Population Sciences, Mumbai

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