Hungry nation: 70% Indians cannot afford healthy diet

Rising food prices fuelled this upward trend, with the cost of a healthy diet increasing by 3.3% in 2020

By Taran Deol
Published: Monday 17 October 2022
India’s poor performance is in resonance with its 107th rank in the Global Hunger Index 2022. Photo: iStock

Some 973 million people of the three billion who could not afford a healthy meal in 2020 resided in India. This accounts for 70.5 per cent of the country’s population. The global figure has increased by 112 million more people than in 2019.

Rising food prices fuelled this upward trend, with the cost of a healthy diet increasing by 3.3 per cent in 2020, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

Visual Capitalist — a data-driven content visualising platform — mapped the findings using the FAO data and revealed a granular understanding of the statistics.

In absolute terms, India has the maximum number of people unable to afford a healthy diet. But, more than 95 per cent of the population in several African countries — including Burundi, Madagascar, Liberia, Malawi, Nigeria and the Central African Republic — cannot afford a healthy diet.

In Asia — home to 1.8 million such people — Pakistan (83.5 per cent) and Bangladesh (73.5) have performed worse than India.

Source: Visual Capitalist

India’s poor performance is in resonance with its 107th rank in the Global Hunger Index 2022 — slipping six positions — on a list of 121 countries. The Union government is currently disputing the categorisation citing discrepancies in the methodology of calculating the indicators.

India has consistently been among the worst performers. Some 1,002.5 million people in the country could not afford a healthy diet (74.9 per cent of the population) in 2017, according to the FAO’s report titled State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2022.

The figure improved marginally over the next few years — 966.6 million (71.5 per cent of the population) in 2018 and 948.6 million in 2019 (69.4 per cent of the population).

The cost of a healthy diet has also been on the rise — up from $2.824 per person per day in 2017, $2.83 in 2018, $2.877 in 2019 and $2.97 in 2020.The FAO food price index was up 40.6 per cent this August compared to average levels in 2020.

Food insecurity in low-income countries is bound to continue worsening unless income levels — already hit by the pandemic — increase at the same rate.

But what is a healthy diet and how is its affordability calculated?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines a healthy diet as one that prevents non-communicable diseases, all forms of malnutrition and promotes growth and development.

Energy expenditure should meet energy intake by balancing calories, ensuring total fat intake remains less than 30 per cent of total energy intake and limiting free sugars to less than 10 per cent of total energy intake. 

“A healthy diet is one that meets daily energy needs as well as requirements within the food and dietary guidelines created by the country,” Govind Bhutada of Visual Capitalist wrote in the World Economic Forum.

Affording a healthy diet is dictated by the income level of a country. “If the cost exceeds 52 per cent of an average household’s income, the diet is deemed unaffordable,” Bhutia wrote.

In India, a healthy diet per person per day in 2020 cost $2.97. Jamaica has the highest healthy diet cost — $6.7 per person per day.

It is 89 per cent higher than the global average of $3.537. Azerbaijan, Iceland, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates are the countries where the entire population can afford a healthy diet. Here, it respectively costs $2.533, $2.414, $2.659 and $3.111 per person per day in 2020.

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.