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