Cover Image
close this book Including the poor
close this folder Part II. Events affecting the poor
close this folder 6. Living conditions in developing countries
View the document 6.1 Growth performance: Comparison of the 1970s and 1980s
View the document 6.2 Growth rates in private consumption
View the document 6.3 Social welfare expenditures
View the document 6.4 Life expectancy, infant and child mortality, and immunization
View the document 6.5 Food production, undernutrition, and protein intake
View the document 6.6 School enrollment
View the document 6.7 Conclusions
View the document 6.8 Notes

6.5 Food production, undernutrition, and protein intake

The growth in global food production outpaced the growth in world population over the past three decades. Yet vast population groups throughout the developing world continue to suffer from hunger and malnutrition. An overwhelming majority of persons in at-risk groups are concentrated in Asia and Africa. Two sets of indicators—undernutrition and malnutrition—are used to identify and monitor at-risk population groups. Undernutrition relates to deficiency in one or more essential nutrients in the daily diet, and malnutrition refers to such anthropometric measures as weight for height or height for age.

Table 6.15 Immunization coverage, selected developing countries, 1981-84 and 1986-88 (percent)

 

Measles

Polio

Country

1981-84

1986-88

Difference

1981-84

1986-88

Difference

Algeria

17

59

-

46

63

-

Argentina

76

78

2

64

78

14

Bangladesh

1

5

4

1

7

6

Benin

24

39

15

17

46

29

Bolivia

17

17

0

56

35

-21

Botswana

75

86

11

77

84

7

Brazil

80

58

-22

89

88

-1

Burkina Faso

94

53

-41

2

23

21

Burundi

30

47

17

6

41

35

Cameroon

47

31

-16

6

35

29

Central African Republic

19

24

5

21

20

-1

Chad

8

16

8

1

13

12

Chile

77

91

14

86

90

4

Colombia

53

56

3

61

61

0

Congo

49

63

14

42

67

25

Costa Rica

83

75

-8

84

86

2

Côte d'Ivoire

28

85

57

34

71

37

Dominican Republic

19

40

21

99

36

-63

Ecuador

40

50

10

36

47

11

Egypt

41

79

38

67

88

11

El Salvador

41

57

16

44

60

26

Ethiopia

8

13

5

7

7

0

Gabon

35

56

21

48

46

-2

The Gambia

70

81

11

70

65

-5

Guatemala

27

31

4

53

31

-22

Guinea

44

9

-35

-

-

-

Guinea-Bissau

33

43

10

14

28

14

Guyana

33

45

12

41

74

33

Haiti

13

22

9

12

22

10

Honduras

51

60

7

84

62

-22

India

-

30

-

37

49

12

Indonesia

7

39

32

7

31

24

Jamaica

60

54

-6

56

71

15

Jordan

30

78

48

41

90

49

Kenya

55

62

7

57

74

17

Lesotho

63

75

12

64

79

15

Liberia

83

37

-46

23

12

-11

Madagascar

-

-

-

7

18

11

Malawi

64

57

-7

68

52

- 16

Malaysia

-

35

-

55

64

9

Mali

-

-

-

10

6

-4

Mauritania

55

66

11

21

48

27

Mauritius

53

70

17

88

84

-4

Mexico

30

59

29

49

87

38

Nepal

2

56

54

65

31

-34

Nicaragua

30

51

21

73

81

8

Niger

16

19

3

5

6

1

Nigeria

20

21

1

24

16

-8

Oman

47

72

25

40

70

30

Papua New Guinea

-

32

-

27

38

11

Panama

72

70

-2

70

80

10

Paraguay

53

49

-4

59

96

37

Peru

32

43

11

26

47

21

Philippines

30

59

29

8

40

32

Rwanda

48

77

29

26

83

57

Senegal

67

60

-7

57

53

-4

Sierra Leone

23

31

8

9

16

7

Somalia

16

30

14

81

24

-57

Sri Lanka

.2

42

40

65

75

10

Sudan

3

17

]4

4

22

18

Syrian Arab Republic

39

41

2

41

49

8

Tanzania

50

76

26

53

60

7

Thailand

7

34

27

55

57

2

Trinidad and Tobago

10

47

37

65

75

10

Tunisia

55

75

20

61

83

22

Uganda

10

31

21

2

25

23

Uruguay

17

79

62

63

70

7

Venezuela

25

54

29

59

64

5

Yemen, PDR

8

28

20

7

19

12

Yemen Arab Republic

18

37

19

8

40

32

Zaire

29

39

10

42

34

-8

Zambia

55

55

0

44

57

13

Zimbabwe

43

68

25

46

74

28

 

-Not available.

Source: Data were obtained from WHO. We are grateful to Mark Gallagher for providing

Food production

The number of countries with negative per capita growth in food production varies widely between years (table 6.1 6). This variability may be due, at least in part, to the poor quality of the data, especially for Africa. Of eighty-eight developing countries considered here, forty-two had negative growth in per capita food production in 1981 and sixty-five had negative growth in 1987. Table 6.17 gives the average per capita food production indexes for different country groups, weighted in proportion to each country's population. The index is set equal to 100 in 1980. For the eighty-seven developing countries as a group, the per capita food production index increased gradually to 114 in 1986 and then dropped to 110 in 1987. Most of this improvement can be attributed to the performance of low-income Asian countries. The African countries suffered a loss in per capita food production, especially during 1983-84. Latin American countries have barely kept their food production in line with their population increase. The conclusions from tables 6.16 and 6.17 differ because the drop in per capita food production in many small countries was outweighed by the large increases in a few populous countries.

Undernutrition

A 1987 UN report on world nutrition (United Nations 1987) reveals the unacceptably large proportions of population suffering from undernutrition. Based on estimates of the proportion of undernourished population by region (table 6.18), the report concluded that during 1960-85, malnutrition increased in much of Africa, remained stable in South America, and decreased in Asia and Central America. Although estimates on the undernourished population in China are not given in table 6.18, other indicators suggest improvements in nutritional status in China. For instance, per capita food production increased by 75 percent over the past twenty-five years.

Improvements in the populous regions of Asia suggest an overall decline in the proportion of the world population suffering from undernutrition. But focusing only on proportions masks the overwhelming magnitude of the world's nutrition problem. The absolute number of the undernourished increased in Sub-Saharan Africa from 60 million at the end of the 1960s to 80 million at the end of the 1970s, and to 100 million by the mid-1980s. Despite improvements in nutritional status in South Asia, the region still has about 170 million undernourished persons, or almost half the world's undernourished population. Finally, the growth in population in South America was likely accompanied by an increase in the number of undernourished in that region.

Table 6.16 Number of developing countries with negative rates of growth in per capita food production, 1981-87

Country group

Number of countries

1981

1982

1983

1984

1985

1986

1987

Low-income

40

19

23

23

28

15

19

33

Africa

30

15

17

22

21

10

12

26

Asia

8

2

4

1

5

3

5

6

Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa

1

1

1

0

1

1

1

1

Latin America and the Caribbean

1

1

1

0

1

1

1

1

Middle-income

48

23

25

34

22

20

25

32

Africa

8

1

5

7

5

2

4

6

Asia

4

1

2

3

1

0

3

3

Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa

14

11

4

10

6

3

5

8

Latin America and the

               

Caribbean

22

10

14

14

10

15

13

15

All developing countries

88

42

48

57

50

35

44

65

 

Source Based on World Bank data.

Malnutrition

Two sets of data are used to assess the prevalence of malnutrition: (1) child anthropometric measurements of weight for age, weight for height, and height for age, and (2) data on dietary deficiencies in energy (calories), protein, and micronutrients. Weight for age is used as an indicator of overall malnutrition (underweight), weight for height as an indicator of acute malnutrition (wasting), and height for age as an indicator of chronic malnutrition (stunting). These conditions reflect infection history and genetics at least as much as they do previous food intake, however, and, except for wasting in small children, bear almost no relation to very recent or current food intake.

A recent assessment of child malnutrition in seventy-six countries (Carlson and Wardlaw 1990) found that during 1980-84 the prevalence of underweight children increased in most Sub-Saharan African countries, remained the same in Latin America, and decreased in Asia. About 36 percent, or 150 million, of the children under age five in the developing world, excluding China, were underweight; 39 percent, or 163 million, were stunted; and 8 percent, or 35 million, were wasted. By all accounts about two-thirds of the malnourished children in the world live in Asia.

To supplement these findings, we looked at the evidence on protein deficiency and micronutrient deficiencies, though neither of these problems are necessarily correlated with poverty. Assuming that many poor households are likely to shift their consumption to inferior food items that contain less protein but more calories during periods of falling income, we examine briefly the evidence suggested by the protein intake data available in the BESD. The ratio of protein intake to calorie intake during 1980-86 for all developing countries remained stable, with a close relation between calorie and protein intakes. We therefore concluded that the protein consumption pattern of countries did not change at the aggregate level during the 1980s. This conclusion has to be weighed against the observation that "protein consumption is an unreliable indicator of malnutrition because generally applicable standards of requirements are more difficult to define" (Reutlinger and Selowsky 1976: 9).

Table 6.17 Per capita food production index, developing countries, 1980-87 (1980= 100)

Country group

Number of countries

1981

1982

1983

1984

1985

1986

1987

Low-income

40

103

105

111

114

115

118

113

Africa

30

100

100

96

92

99

101

95

Asia

8

103

106

114

117

117

121

116

Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa

1

99

91

92

90

89

89

86

Latin America and the Caribbean

1

98

96

98

98

98

96

97

Middle-income

47

101

102

98

100

102

101

100

Africa

8

111

98

84

99

97

96

91

Asia

4

103

102

101

103

104

102

99

Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa

13

97

102

99

100

102

106

103

Latin America and the Caribbean

22

101

102

98

100

101

98

100

All developing countries

87

102

104

108

110

111

114

110

 

Source: Based on World Bank data.

Table 6.18 Undernourished population by region, 1969 and 1983 (percent)

Region

1969a

1983b

Sub-Saharan Africa

24

26

South Asia

21

17

Southeast Asia

18

8

Central America and Caribbean

20

15

South America

9

8

Near East and North Africa

15

5

 

Note: Country groups used in this table exclude China and differ from those used throughout this report

a. some of the data in this column are for 1971.

b. some of the data in this column are for 1985. Source: United Nations, ACC/SCN, 1987, table 3.

The most important micronutrients in terms of their nutritional consequences and the number of people affected are iodine, iron, and vitamin A. Iodine deficiency is prevalent in the Andes of Latin America, the Himalayas of Asia, and the mountainous areas of Sub-Saharan Africa. Of the estimated 800 million people at risk of iodine deficiency, 85 percent are in Asia. The remainder are distributed equally between Africa and Latin America.

In summary, although the food production data show, in the aggregate, some modest improvement in per capita production over time, the data on undernutrition clearly indicate that this progress is insufficient. Moreover, an increasing number of countries show an actual decline in per capita food production. This decline does not fully offset the progress in other countries, but it is cause for great concern in those countries in which malnutrition is already a severe problem. The degree of undernutrition and malnutrition worsened in more than one-third of the Sub-Saharan African countries and improved in Asia. An overwhelming majority of the malnourished children continue to live in Asia.