India’s “Calorie Consumption Puzzle”

India’s “Calorie Consumption Puzzle” has attracted the attention of many scholars in recent years. The relevant question is : why has the country’s nutritional intake been declining over the past few decades while people’s purchasing power is increasing. When it is generally true that richer people consume more calories, why is the Indian trend the opposite? Why do China and Vietnam show normal trend of rising food consumption with growth while only India is going the other way?

Several explanations for the puzzle have been offered by researchers. One theory that has become popular is declining calorie needs – people are choosing to consume fewer calories since they need less energy as s the workforce shifts from physically demanding agricultural work to while collar occupations in cities and as agriculture becomes mechanised, calorie requirements of the population are expected to decline. Another explanation centres on diseases such as diarrhoea that result in loss of energy. Greater availability of safe drinking water and better sanitation in India has led to better epidemiological conditions, resulting in fewer cases of diarrhoea and other diseases, and ultimately leading to falling calorie requirements.

Other explanations include increase in food inflation, supplies not matching demand in protein food, vegetarianism that shifts from cereals but cant have protein as it costs more nor meat, voluntary choice of luxuries like TVs over food, and underreporting of calorie intake due to eating outside the home.

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