Food Consumption Patterns and Dietary Diversity
Source: Flickr, Asian Development Bank

A paper published in the journal Food Security investigates the patterns of food consumption and dietary diversity in Eastern India with the aim of understanding the heterogeneity in food habits, quality of diet intake and the socio-economic and demographic determinants of the dietary diversity in the region. The level of diversity in household diets is generally considered an indirect indicator of diet quality and the extent to which nutritional needs of a household are being met. Eastern India has a low per capita income and a high reported level of food insecurity with high incidences of wasting and stunting in children and low BMI and high incidences of anemia in adult men and women. At the same time India’s Public Distribution System (PDS) is reported to be performing poorly in Eastern States, though much improved as before. In this context this study is particularly relevant as it provides evidence concerning why there is high extent of undernutrition, and how food and nutrition can be improved in Eastern India.

The study is based upon an annual round of cross sectional data collected through Village Level Studies (VLS) conducted by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics. The study was conducted across 12 villages in Eastern India spread out over 3 states (Bihar, Jharkand and Odisha), in each village 40 households were selected (480 households in total) in 2011-2012. This cross sectional data provides comprehensive household and plot level records over a number of years. During the data collection process, households were interviewed several times a year regarding expenditures, income, consumption, investments and farming practices. The study categorized households according to farm-size classes (marginal, small, medium and large). To further investigate food consumption patterns and dietary diversity, questionnaires recorded the quantity and types of food items consumed by households as well as food consumed inside and outside the household. Additionally the study collected household data on the share of total expenditure spent on food, the share of consumption originating from home production (‘self-sufficiency’) and the contribution of India’s Public Distribution System to household food supplies. The study particularly focused on diversity in the food consumption through using the Simpson Index of Dietary Diversity.

The study found that food consumption and dietary diversity varied significantly within and across villages but that households with more educated, male headed household, higher purchasing power parity and access to the PDS, has improved household’s food consumption and dietary diversity. Regarding food consumption, the study found significant variations on the levels/amount of expenditure between villages and a relationship with the farm size (with larger farms spending more on food). The amount spent on food ranged from 540 rupees per capita per month to 1825 rupees per capita per month. In all villages, and regardless of farm size, households spent over 50 percent of their total expenditure on food.

Regarding dietary diversity, the study found that cereals, specifically rice and wheat, were the main source of food and dietary nutrients in all villages studied and varied between 12-25 percent of the total food consumed.  Significantly, all villages recorded a higher consumption of cereals than the Indian average. Regarding the consumption of other foods, the study found that the amount of fruit consumed varied significantly across villages while vegetable consumption was high in all the villages but the average consumption of non-vegetarian food (meat, fish, and eggs) was quite low. However, households tended to consume the same types of foods as the other households in the same village. As such, certain villages recorded high numbers of vegetarians (up to 62 percent) while other villages recorded only non-vegetarian households.

Regarding self-sufficiency, the study found that household dependencies on home-grown foods varied significantly per village. Households in the state of Bihar generally had the highest level of self-sufficiency as over 60% of cereals consumed were grown by households. Jharkand and Odisha recorded significantly lower levels of self-sufficiency. These statistics were found to be related to the PDS system as households belonging to smaller farms depended more on the PDS system.

Investigating the link between expenditures and dietary diversity, the study found an almost perfect positive relationship between dietary diversity and household per capita expenditure. Dietary diversity can serve as a proxy measure for nutritional adequacy which suggests that the wealthier households and those that spend a high proportion of their incomes on food have better nutrition. The study analyzed this further by looking at the determinants of this diversity that included other socio-economic variables including: age, gender, education, household size, caste affiliation, consumption habits, expenditure, access to PDS, non-farm sources of income and state residence. The study found a positive relationship between the education level of the household head and dietary diversity. Furthermore, male-headed households showed higher levels of dietary diversity than female-headed households. On further analysis the study also showed that that male-headed households generally had higher purchasing power capacity, which resulted in higher levels of dietary diversity. Furthermore, the study also found that households with more members showed higher dietary diversity and that households associated with disadvantaged castes had lower dietary diversity. Access to PDS appeared to be a significant factor, increasing dietary diversity for households that had access to PDS as they could increase their expenditure on other foods.

In conclusion, the paper highlights that the findings of this study suggest that interventions focusing on improving dietary diversity and nutrition security require a detailed understanding of the socio-economic setting in the target areas and its population.  For additional information click here.


Written by:  Bas Paris, IFPRI


Photo credit:Flickr, Asian Development Bank