Rising incomes, poor nutrition choices

Photo: Atholpady | Dreamstime.com

Photo: Atholpady | Dreamstime.com

Economic development in India has increased people’s incomes, but Indians are choosing to spend that money in ways that could end up hurting them by ruining their health. This is not an issue affecting any one or a few socioeconomic classes, but more to do with human nature and lack of knowledge. Few people realize the effect that sugar and processed fat have on the human body.

The latest estimates by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) show that Indians are consuming much less protein than they did 20 years ago. On the other hand, consumption of oil and fat has gone up. What’s more, the urban poor are not getting enough energy to sustain their health.

Here is why this matters. According to the Indian National Science Academy (INSA), it costs 27 times more to tackle the effects of poor nutrition than to prevent it. That is tax money and people’s savings that could be used for other purposes. That is a road not getting fixed or a school not getting built. So while the economy is growing, in the long run, India may still end up falling behind.

According to the FICCI estimates, as reported by the Times of India, the nutrition gap between the rich and the poor has become drastic in the urban population. The most well-off people consume about 2,518 kcal every day, while those who are least well-off consume less than 1,679 kcal per day, far below the government-recommended 2,400 kcal needed to thrive.

In fact, the average protein intake has dipped by about 6-10% over the past two decades, and about 80% of the rural population and 70% of people living in urban areas don’t get their recommended daily calories.

Daily protein intake


Daily oil and fat consumption


Snack food and beverages as percent of overall consumption


The percentage of food items such as egg, dairy products, fruits and vegetables, and meat and fish in a person’s diet went from around 9% in 1993-94 to about 9.6% in 2011-12, which is a modest gain. On the other hand, the consumption of snack food items, such as chips, biscuits and other snacks, plus hot and cold beverages, made quite a large leap.

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