A Billion Hungry People? | Poor Economics
Chapter 2
A Billion Hungry People?

The basic idea of a nutrition-based poverty trap is that there exists a critical level of nutrition, above or below which dynamic forces push people either further down into poverty and hunger or further up into better-paying jobs and higher-calorie diets.

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Most of us in rich countries think that poverty and hunger always go hand in hand.
In Indonesia, Pak Sudarno explained why there can be a nutrition based poverty trap: Physical work requires a certain number of calories. Since he couldn't work, he couldn't earn enough to eat -- and since he couldn't eat enough, he couldn't work.
But if calories are the main driver of poverty, then we should expect people to spend every extra cent on the cheapest calories. What we see instead is people opting to consume tastier, more expensive food when they get the chance.
People are also eating less than before - especially in places like India, where there has been a decline in per capita calorie consumption.
Even with the recent increase in food prices, food is relatively cheap: with 21 cents at PPP you can eat 2,400 calories a day -- although it would involve eating only bananas and eggs.
And yet, the poor, in India for example, are very short and skinny. Proper nutrition, particularly micronutrients such as iron and iodine, is important and can impact health throughout a person's life.
In part, what could be happening is that people do not understand the value of feeding themselves and their children better, particularly when it comes to micronutrients.
But it's clear that even though nutrition is important, people also have other pressures on their expenditures, such as funerals, festivals, and legitimate desires like cell phones or televisions.
We need to develop ways to pack foods that people like to eat with additional nutrients, and come up with new strains of nutritious and tasty crops that can be grown in a wider range of environments.

Consumption studies

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A Billion Hungry People?

The basic idea of a nutrition-based poverty trap is that there exists a critical level of nutrition, above or below which dynamic forces push people either further down into poverty and hunger or further up into better-paying jobs and higher-calorie diets.

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The basic idea of a nutrition-based poverty trap is that there exists a critical level of nutrition, above or below which dynamic forces push people either further down into poverty and hunger or further up into better-paying jobs and higher-calorie diets. These virtuous or vicious cycles can also last over generations: early childhood under-nutrition can have long-term effects on adult success. Maternal health impacts in utero development. And it’s not just quantity of food – quality counts, too. Micronutrients like iodine and iron can have direct impacts on health and economic outcomes.

But if nutrition is so important, why don’t people spend every available extra cent on more calories? From the look of our eighteen-country dataset, people spent their money on food… and festivals, funerals, weddings, televisions, DVD players, medical emergencies, alcohol, tobacco and, well, better-tasting food. So what stands in the way of better nutrition for the poor? And what policies can eradicate the “hidden hunger” of a population who may feel sated but whose diet lacks essential micronutrients?

 

Spotlight



More Than 1 Billion People Are Hungry In The World
Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo / Foreign Policy / May, June 2011

An excert from Poor Economics explains that the story of hunger, and of poverty more broadly, is far more complex than any one statistic or grand theory; it is a world where those without enough to eat may save up to buy a TV instead, and where more money doesn't necessarily translate into more food.

The basic idea of a nutrition-based poverty trap is that there exists a critical level of nutrition, above or below which dynamic forces push people either further down into poverty and hunger or further up into better-paying jobs and higher-calorie diets. These virtuous or vicious cycles can also last over generations: early childhood under-nutrition can have long-term effects on adult success. Maternal health impacts in utero development. And it’s not just quantity of food – quality counts, too. Micronutrients like iodine and iron can have direct impacts on health and economic outcomes.

But if nutrition is so important, why don’t people spend every available extra cent on more calories? From the look of our eighteen-country dataset, people spent their money on food… and festivals, funerals, weddings, televisions, DVD players, medical emergencies, alcohol, tobacco and, well, better-tasting food. So what stands in the way of better nutrition for the poor? And what policies can eradicate the “hidden hunger” of a population who may feel sated but whose diet lacks essential micronutrients?

 

Spotlight



More Than 1 Billion People Are Hungry In The World
Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo / Foreign Policy / May, June 2011

An excert from Poor Economics explains that the story of hunger, and of poverty more broadly, is far more complex than any one statistic or grand theory; it is a world where those without enough to eat may save up to buy a TV instead, and where more money doesn't necessarily translate into more food.