research institute for compassionate economics

Health and hunger: Can an improving disease environment explain the Indian calorie consumption decline puzzle?

By Josephine Duh, Dean Spears, on February 1st, 2016

India’s experience presents a puzzle at odds with a basic fact of household economics: amidst unprecedented economic growth, average per capita daily calorie consumption has declined in recent decades. Does an improving disease environment explain the calorie decline? A diminished burden of infectious disease could lower energy needs by increasing absorption and effective use of calories. We document a robust effect of disease exposure ¬†measured as infant mortality and as poor sanitation ¬†on calorie consumption. Similar effects are found using multiple datasets and empirical strategies. Disease can account for an important fraction (one-fifth or more) of India’s calorie decline.

Download Published: Economic Journal       Geography: India