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Due to stagnant income levels, 74% in India can’t afford a healthy diet: UN agency report | Data

A man cooks food at his home adjacent to railway track, as a train passes near the Daya Basti area in New Delhi on Tuesday, September 22, 2020.

A man cooks food at his home adjacent to railway track, as a train passes near the Daya Basti area in New Delhi on Tuesday, September 22, 2020. | Photo Credit: MOORTHY RV

The report, ‘State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World’ (SOFI) 2023, published last month, shows that while the cost of a healthy diet has increased in recent years in India, it is still the lowest among the BRICS nations ( including the newly added six countries) and India’s neighbours. However, the share of people who are able to afford such a healthy diet is still low: India features at the bottom of that list since income levels are stagnant or going down. SOFI is published by the Food and Agriculture Organization and jointly produced with fellow United Nations agencies.

The Data Point published on Wednesday concluded that the cost of meals in Mumbai rose by 65% ​​in five years, while salaries/wages rose by just 28%-37%. Mumbai was chosen as an example due to the availability of consistent data. Today’s analysis takes a broader view by comparing India’s numbers with other countries.

In the SOFI report, the cost of a healthy diet is arrived at by looking at the cheapest local food items that meet dietary guidelines. The cost and availability of such food items is averaged from national data. To check if the diet is affordable, its cost is compared to the average income in each country. A diet is considered too expensive if it costs more than 52% of a country’s average income. This percentage is based on data showing that people in low-income countries spend about 52% of their income on food. The percentage of people who cannot afford this diet is then calculated by using income distributions within a nation.

Chart 1 | The chart shows the cost of a healthy diet in terms of PPP dollars per person per day in 2021, the latest year with comparable data.

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For example, in India, a healthy diet costs 3,066 PPP dollars per person per day, the lowest among the countries considered. PPP stands for ‘Purchasing Power Parity’. In simple terms, 1 PPP dollar in the United States should buy the same amount of goods and services as 1 PPP dollar in, say, India or Brazil. The cost of a healthy diet expressed as ‘X PPP dollars per person per day’ means that it would cost that much per person every day to maintain a healthy diet, accounting for differences in the cost of living between countries.

Chart 2 | The chart shows the share of the population that is unable to afford a healthy diet in 2021.

For example, in India, 74% were unable to afford a healthy diet, the fourth highest share among the nations considered. Charts 1 and 2 show that the cost of a healthy diet in India, although increasing, is still lower than many comparable economies. However, given the poor income levels in India, a healthy diet is still unaffordable to many.

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Chart 3 | The chart shows the change in the cost of a healthy diet over the years across regions.

Between 2019 (before the COVID-19 pandemic) and 2021, the expense of maintaining a healthy diet increased by almost 9% in Asia — the highest across regions.

Chart 4 | The chart shows the change in the number of people who were unable to afford a healthy diet over the years across regions.

Between 2019 and 2021, Asia followed by Africa recorded the highest growth in the number of people who could not afford a healthy diet. The two continents together made up 92% of the worldwide increase. In Asia, South Asia has the highest number of people (1.4 billion) and the highest share (72%) who cannot afford a healthy diet. This rate was almost double the average for the region. In Africa, Eastern and Western Africa together have the most people (712 million) and the highest share (85%) who cannot afford a healthy diet.

Source: World Bank blog titled, “Over 3.1 billion people could not afford a healthy diet in 2021 – an increase of 134 million since the start of COVID-19”, State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World

Also read: Policy changes to make healthy food cheaper are the need of the hour to tackle diabetes epidemic: Expert

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