How do you measure who is hungry?

On October 17, 2008, in Uncategorized, by Karen Grepin

While news in the US is mostly about the financial crisis these days, much of the news in the developing world is about another crisis: that of the global food crisis. Here in Ghana I try to eat lunch most days with my colleagues at the Center for Democratic Development. Lunch is normally GH$1.50 (~1.30 USD) but due to rising food prices it just jumped to GH$2.00, a pretty significant jump.

An article in this week’s Lancet discusses the lack of consensus on appropriate and effective measures of poverty. Basically three measures are in common use.

The most commonly used is the Food and Agriculture Organization’s proportion of the population undernourished, but this measure comes from balance sheets and is basically a measure of calories per capita, which does not allow identify who is actually undernourished or provide some sense of the inequality of food security.

Next is the proportion of the prevalence of underweight children under the age of five. The biggest problems with this measure is that it is not responsive to short term changes in nutrition, it could also be measuring other factors which affect nutrition, and also ignore important behavioral effects.

Finally, the proportion of the population below the national poverty line for food is also used, but this measure, which intuitively seems to be the most compelling, is not available for most countries, and is not the same across countries (which could also be a good thing).

I am kind of happy to know that it is seems to be about as hard to measure how hungry people are to how healthy they are…however, it is too bad that we have to rely on such shoddy data for such important issues.

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