Nutrition indicators for development
Efforts to correct malnutrition have traditionally relied on direct nutrition
intervention programmes. However, limited success and the high costs of these
programmes have restricted their use. Although they may be effective in
preventing selected nutritional problems, the overall problem of energy and
protein deficiencies among large population segments can be solved only through
economic and social development. Failure to consider nutritional goals
explicitly in development plans, strategies, projects, and policies may worsen
the overall nutrition situation, despite improvements made by direct
Including nutritional goals in development plans and strategies requires
knowing the true condition of an individual, community, or country on the basis
of information derived from nutrition indicators. These indicators should be
available to planners for establishing baseline values and for focusing their
attention on the problems affecting a population. With such data the planners
and policy makers can identify development programmes and projects that will
benefit the less fortunate, and monitor the progress of development projects in
meeting this aim.
Nutrition indicators should be selected and identified on the basis of an
organized and precise set of criteria.
The United Nations Research Institute for Social Development has presented
the following five criteria  which can be used by any country:
- The availability or obtainability of acceptable data. This
might seem quite obvious, but much effort has been spent in elaborating
theoretical lists of ideal indicators for which reliable statistics cannot be
found and for which no feasible method of data collection is offered or
- Validity. An indicator should make sense conceptually
by virtue of its composition, structure, and performance. That is, its value
should be consistent with other data and with common sense. If it measures
factors other than those intended (even if the unintended factors have an
important impact), it will be of little value.
- Comparability of
operational and theoretical definitions. Different operations to measure
the same object, even with the same basic indicator, often yield different data
for the same area or population at the same period. In some cases differences
due to different operations may not be so great as to require discarding the
data, but in other cases some data may have to be suppressed in order for the
indicator to be used; otherwise, comparability may be compromised far beyond
what is acceptable. For example, measurements of height made with different
types of instruments can result in unreliable data; this may be suspected
especially when percentages of stunting over the years appear questionable.
- Degree of association or correlation of a particular indicator with
other development indicators. In principle, socio-economic indicators
should be well correlated with one another.
- Balance among sectors
and generally between socioeconomic and nutrition indicators. This
criterion is relevant when overall measurement of development covering both
social and economic sectors is a goal. This means avoiding unnecessary overlap
and undue proliferation of indicators.
Another set of criteria for selecting critical key indicators was used in the
1987 Economic and Social Impact Analysis and Women in Development (ESIA/WID)
project in the Philippines :
- Measurability. The indicator must be capable of being
expressed in terms of quantitative measures.
The indicator must be capable of measuring a specific attribute or
characteristic for the purpose of determining the extent to which an objective
has been obtained.
- Comprehensiveness. The indicator should
incorporate as much information on a given area of concern as feasible.
- Relevance. The indicator should be responsive and relevant in its
attempt to monitor existing policy objectives.
The indicator should reflect actual changes in absolute levels or trends related
to the aspects of conditions implicit in the goals or areas of concern.
- Impact orientation. The key indicator measures final impact/outcome
rather than inputs.
In the ESIA/WID project, indicators were categorized into two groups: key
indicators, which meet all the six criteria given above, and supportive
indicators, which satisfy the criteria on measurability and appropriateness.
The following five steps, which have been identified for selecting indicators
relevant for analysing economic development, could be adopted in selecting
nutrition indicators for any development effort: (1) compilation of initial
variables after review of published statistical series, (2) elimination of those
with insufficient data or conspicuous defects or that do not distinguish between
developed and developing countries, (3) a second reduction of variables based on
duplication, (4) a third reduction to a reservoir of indicators, and (5) a final
selection of a set of core indicators.
In 1983 Dr. R. U. Quereshi, regional Food Policy and Nutrition Officer of the
FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, convened a consultation of
nutrition experts from the region which identified the following four
nutritional measurements as indicators for development : birth weights,
heights and weights of children, dietary scores, and affordability of a survival
ration. The corresponding variables were birth weights, weights for heights of
children at age of school entry (i.e., at 6-7 years of age), 24-hour recall of
food intake during the final year of primary school, and the cost of 1,600 kcal
from the staple cereal, represented as a proportion of the average daily income
in various regions of the