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The Challenge of Affording a Healthy Diet in India

Understanding the Struggle for Nutritious Meals

The recent report by the United Nations agencies, titled ‘State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World’ (SOFI) 2023, has unveiled a significant and pressing concern in India – the affordability of a healthy diet. Despite relatively low food prices in the country, the report paints a stark picture: a staggering 74% of India’s population cannot afford a nutritious diet due to their low incomes.

The Cost of Health

In the SOFI report, the cost of a healthy diet is determined by assessing the cheapest local food items that align with dietary guidelines. This cost is then compared to the average income in each country to ascertain affordability. A diet is considered too expensive if it consumes more than 52% of a country’s average income, based on data showing that individuals in low-income countries typically allocate about 52% of their earnings to food.

For India, the cost of maintaining a healthy diet stands at 3.066 PPP dollars per person per day, the lowest among the nations considered. PPP, or Purchasing Power Parity, ensures that 1 PPP dollar holds the same value in various countries. Despite the relatively low cost of a nutritious diet, 74% of the Indian population finds it financially out of reach, ranking India fourth highest among the countries studied.

The Mumbai Perspective

A deeper dive into the issue reveals the alarming trend of rising food prices in urban centers like Mumbai. Over the course of five years, meal costs in Mumbai soared by 65%, while salaries and wages only increased by 28%-37%. This substantial disparity between food costs and income levels exacerbates the challenge of accessing nutritious meals.

Regional Perspectives

Between 2019 and 2021, Asia, particularly South Asia, experienced the highest increase in the number of people unable to afford a healthy diet. In South Asia alone, 1.4 billion individuals, constituting 72% of the population, faced this predicament. This rate was nearly double the regional average, highlighting the severity of the issue in the Indian subcontinent.

In Africa, Eastern and Western Africa faced similar challenges, with 712 million people, or 85% of the population, unable to afford a healthy diet. These regions together accounted for 92% of the global increase in individuals facing this struggle.

A Call to Action

The findings of the SOFI report underscore the urgent need to address the issue of affordable and nutritious diets, particularly in countries like India. Despite the relatively lower cost of healthy food, stagnant or declining incomes have placed it beyond the reach of a significant portion of the population. The implications of this challenge are profound, affecting the health and well-being of millions.

As we confront this issue, it is imperative to consider policies and interventions that can bridge the gap between income levels and the cost of maintaining a nutritious diet. Only through concerted efforts can we ensure that everyone has access to the basic human right of affordable and healthy food.

Source: The Hindu – “Due to stagnant income levels, 74% in India can’t afford a healthy diet: UN agency report”

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