Global Hunger Index: A lesson in how not to measure hunger

Source– The post is based on the article “Global Hunger Index: A lesson in how not to measure hunger” published in The Indian Express on 21st October 2022.

Syllabus: GS2- Issues related to hunger

Relevance– Estimation of hunger and malnutrition

News- The article explains the issue with the Global Hunger Index.

In the recently released Global Hunger Index. India ranked 107 out of 123 countries.

What are the issues related with methodology of Global Hunger Index?

About a third of the index rests on the Food and Agricultural Organisation’s estimates of the proportion of undernourished in the population. These estimates are based on Gallup World Poll’s survey of 3,000 households in India.

The sample of the Gallup survey is small and not representative. There is a lack of transparency as data used by gallup surveys is not available in the public domain.

FAO has not released standard errors for their estimates. It makes it difficult for us to evaluate whether data is statistically significant.

Does this index genuinely measure hunger?

The index rests on four indicators: Proportion of undernourished in the population, under-five mortality rate, prevalence of stunting and wasting  in children under five. The last three indicators come from the National Family Health Survey for India.

First indicator identifies the proportion experiencing hunger. But the latter three are only partially related to hunger.

Child mortality depends heavily on a country’s disease climate and public health systems. Many child deaths are associated with conditions surrounding birth, congenital conditions, or delivery complications. These are not necessarily markers of hunger.

The relationship between stunting, wasting and hunger is not apparent. UNICEF says that poverty is not a clear cause of stunting as there are stunted children even among the wealthiest households.

Various factors contribute to stunting, such as infant and child care practices, hygiene, dietary diversity and cultural practices surrounding maternal diet during pregnancy. Wasting is associated both with recent illness and low food intake.

Recent year trends of three indicators show their different patterns. NFHS surveys show that the child mortality rate fell from 95 deaths per thousand in 1998 to 40 per thousand in 2019. Child stunting decline was also substantial, from 51.5% to 35.5%. Wasting has not changed. It was 19.5% in 19988 and 19.3% in 2019.

What are the impacts of too much focus upon this index?

It directs governmental attention to cross-national comparisons. It leads to neglect of underlying issues.

Amartya Sen has also expressed concerns that concentrating too much on the Human Development Index or any other index would be a great mistake.

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