research institute for compassionate economics

How does the disease environment shape calorie needs? Research with economist Josephine Duh

Written by Dean Spears on November 4th, 2013

Could an improving disease environment – which allows people to retain, absorb, and use more of the calories they consume – reduce calorie needs, and explain some of the puzzle of the decline in average calorie consumption in India over the past 20 years? A draft of a new working paper I am writing with Josephine Duh poses this question.

Josephine is about to complete her PhD in Economics from Princeton University and is on the economics job market. Her job market paper uses clever demographic techniques, applied carefully to large datasets, to estimate spillovers of HIV treatment in sub-Saharan Africa onto maternal and child health services. In addition to this interesting research, Jo has won an outstanding teaching prize two years running, and makes an excellent peanut butter sandwich even in a crowded survey office/apartment in the Rajasthani summer heat. Between all this and her research in Malawi, she finds time to be a rice board member. You can see our paper on her website.

Our research about calories suggests that an important fraction – although certainly not all – of India’s calorie puzzle can be explained by improvements in the disease environment, as measured by infant mortality rates and sanitation. You can see in this graph, which visually suggests that much of the between-year difference in calorie consumption can be statistically accounted for by the within-year gradient with infant mortality. Read the paper for details! It’s a work in progress, so we welcome comments.