Editorial Notes

[Editorial Notes] The majority cannot afford a Balanced diet

In India, even millions who are above the poverty line do not have access to healthy or nutritious food.
By IASToppers
July 28, 2020


  • Introduction
  • SOFI 2020
  • Types of diets
  • Findings for South Asia
  • Affordability of healthy diets
  • Conclusion

The majority cannot afford a Balanced diet

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The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report 2020 shows that hundreds of millions of people in India above the international poverty line of $1.90 purchasing power parity (PPP) per person per day cannot afford a healthy or nutritious diet. This analysis confirms the fact that the problem of poor nutrition in India is largely on account of the unaffordability of good diets, and not on account of lack of information on nutrition or tastes or cultural preferences.

State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World Report 2020:

  • This is a joint report issued annually by FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) of the United Nations, IFAD (International Fund for Agricultural Development), UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund), WFP (World Food Programme) and WHO (World Health Organization).
  • It presents the latest estimates on food insecurity, hunger and malnutrition at the global and regional levels.
  • A new feature of SOFI 2020 is a detailed analysis of the cost and affordability of healthy diets around the world.

Types of diets:

Three types of diet are defined-

1. Basic Energy Sufficient diet:

  • This is one in which the required calorie intake is met by consuming only the cheapest starchy cereal available (say, rice or wheat).
  • A requirement of 2,329 Kcal for a healthy young woman of 30 years is taken as the standard reference.

2. Nutrient adequate diet:

  • This is the one where the required calorie norms and the stipulated requirement of 23 macro- and micro-nutrients are met.
  • This diet includes least cost items from different food groups.

3. Healthy diet:

  • This is one which meets the calorie norm and the macro- and micro-nutrient norm and also allows for consumption of a diverse diet, from several food groups.
  • The Indian recommendation by FAO includes consumption of items from six groups: starchy staples, a protein-rich food (legumes, meat and eggs), dairy, vegetables, fruits, and fats.
  • It includes 30 gm of cereal, 30 gm of pulses, 50 gm of meat/chicken/fish and 50 gm of eggs, 100 gm of milk, 100 gm of vegetables and fruit each, and 5 gm of oil a day. 

Findings for South Asia:

1. Cost of Basic Energy Sufficient diet:

  • The energy-sufficient diet or eating only cereals to meet your calorie requirement costs around 80 cents a day in South Asia and is thus affordable to a poor person or one defined as having an income of $1.9 a day.
  • In short, the poor in India and other South Asian countries can get their calories by sticking to rice or wheat alone.

2. Cost of nutrient-adequate diet:

  • The nutrient-adequate diet costs $2.12 a day which is more than the international poverty line.
  • A person with income just above the poverty line cannot spend the entire daily expenditure on food (ignoring fuel, transport, rent, medicines or any other expenditure).
  • The SOFI report assumes that a person cannot spend more than 63% of the total expenditure on food (i.e. 37% would be required for non-food essentials).

3. Cost of a healthy diet:

  • The healthy diet costs $4.07 a day which is more than twice the international poverty line.
  • This makes a healthy diet unaffordable for those with incomes at even twice the poverty line.
  • The SOFI report estimates that 18% of South Asians (numbering 586 million people) cannot afford the nutrient-adequate diet and 58% of South Asians (1,337 million people) cannot afford the healthy diet.

Affordability of healthy diets:

  • The Indian poverty line of 2011-12, as defined by the Tendulkar Committee, amounts to ₹33 per day in urban areas and ₹27 per day in rural areas.
  • The Indian poverty line (way less than $1 a day) is thus lower than the international poverty line used in the SOFI report.
  • Those we officially count as poor in India – with a cut-off that is lower than the international norm of $1.9 a day – cannot afford a nutrient-adequate diet let alone a healthy diet.
  • This result is contrary to the view of scholars such as Arvind Panagariya (former vice-chairman NITI Aayog) that poverty line in India may not permit a comfortable existence, including a balanced diet, (but) allows above subsistence existence.
  • As per the report, even those with incomes of twice the international poverty line cannot afford a healthy diet.
  • To reduce malnutrition and food insecurity the problem of affordability of healthy diets must be addressed.


  • Even if many poor consumers aspired to consume healthier and more environmentally sustainable foods, income and price constraints render this diet unaffordable.
  • The Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana offers an additional 5 kg of wheat or rice and 1 kg of gram or lentils a month free of cost to all households with ration cards up to November 2020. This is welcome but utterly inadequate to address the massive and growing problem of malnutrition.
  • Increased earnings and safety-net transfers, as well as systemic changes to lower food prices, are needed to bring healthy and sustainable diets within reach of the poor.
Mains 2020 Editorial Notes

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