Measuring hunger across States


    Measuring hunger across States

    Syllabus: GS2/ Government Policies & Interventions, Issues Arising out of their Design & Implementation

    In Context

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

    India’s challenge of hunger & undernourishment

    • 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.

    About the State Hunger Index (SHI)

    • Index Indicators:
      • The GHI is computed using four indicators among children below the age of five; and under-five mortality rate. 
        • The prevalence of calorie undernourishment; 
        • Stunting, 
        • Wasting, and 
        • Mortality
      • 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 sources:
      • 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)
      • The prevalence of BMI undernourishment is computed using NFHS-5 (2019-21) and Wave 1 of the Longitudinal Ageing Study in India (2017-18). 
    • Calculation of the SHI:
      • 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.
        • Higher scores indicating more hunger. 
        • Scores below 10 signify low hunger, 
        • 10-20 moderate, 
        • 20-30 serious, 
        • 30-40 alarming, and 
        • 50 or above is extremely alarming.

    Performance of states in India

    • Alarming: In the SHI, Bihar, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh scored 35, which places them in the ‘alarming’ category. 
    • States above the national average: 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. 
    • Moderate hunger: 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. 
    • Serious hunger: All the other States, which scored below the national average and above 20, have a problem of ‘serious hunger’. 
    • Low 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.

    Issues & challenges

    • Dispute over data & methodology: 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 (FAO), 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. 
    • Lack of National Sample Survey (NSS) data: 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. 
    • Climate change & food insecurity: Climate change and the increasing frequency of extreme weather events, from heat waves to flash floods, pose a big challenge not only to India’s food system but also to poverty alleviation – gains could reverse with these shocks.
    • Non-communicable diseases: The rising burden of cardiovascular and other non-communicable diseases in India, particularly among the rapidly growing “middle class”, is strongly linked to diet and nutrition.


    • Access to nutritious food: It is time to elevate food intake among young children to be of primary importance, as opposed to being referred to as “complementary” in policies and guidelines related to maternal, infant and young child nutrition. 
      • Access to adequate and affordable nutritious food is equally necessary for mothers for healthy breastfeeding.
    • Need of improved assessments: To better understand food security for all populations in India, assessments using household-level food insecurity modules developed by the Food and Agriculture Organisation can be adapted to measure the extent of food insecurity among Indian households.
    • Evidence-based policy: Measuring the availability, accessibility and affordability of nutritious food, especially for disadvantaged and vulnerable populations such as young children, constitutes the foundation for any evidence-based policy to end hunger and improve nutritional security among Indians.
    • Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana: To achieve the SDG of zero hunger, and building on the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana, India should consider a strategic initiative led by the Prime Minister’s Office aimed at eliminating food insecurity in India and ensuring affordable access to sufficient quantity and quality of nutritionally diverse food, with a special and immediate focus on India’s youngest children.

    Way ahead

    • One simple answer to these challenges would be to keep focus on accelerating economic growth and making it more inclusive. 
    • Fixing the pre-existing schemes is another important solution to addressing India’s multi-dimensional nutrition challenge.
      • Getting the already existing schemes right requires greater involvement of local government and local community groups in the design and delivery of tailored nutrition interventions.

    Daily Mains Question

    [Q] Examine the need of calculation of India-specific hunger index at the level of States and Union Territories. Suggest ways to effectively eliminate the challenge of Hunger in India.