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A Revealed Preference Approach to Measuring Hunger and Undernutrition

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  • Robert T. Jensen
  • Nolan H. Miller
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    Abstract

    Caloric intake and minimum calorie thresholds are widely used in developing countries to assess hunger and nutrition, and to construct poverty lines. However, it is generally recognized that the sufficiency of an individual's caloric intake cannot be determined, due to: a lack of consensus on the true thresholds; the fact that any such thresholds are individual-varying and unobservable; imperfect nutrient absorption; and the weak and non-monotonic empirical relationship between calories and wealth. We propose a revealed preference approach to measuring hunger and undernutrition that overcomes these challenges. Low caloric intake is associated with a large utility penalty (e.g., physical discomfort). The corresponding high marginal utility of calories causes a utility-maximizing consumer to primarily consume the cheapest available source of calories (a staple). Once they have surpassed subsistence, the marginal utility of calories declines significantly and they substitute towards foods with higher levels of non-nutritional attributes (e.g., taste). Thus, though any individual's requirements are unobserved, their choice to switch away from the staple reveals they are above that requirement. Accordingly, the percent of calories obtained from the staple can be used to indicate nutritional sufficiency. We also provide an application for China that shows the desirable empirical properties of this approach.

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    Bibliographic Info

    Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 16555.

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    Date of creation: Nov 2010
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    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:16555

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    Cited by:
    1. Diego Ubfal, 2013. "How General Are Time Preferences? Eliciting Good-Specific Discount Rates," Working Papers 473, IGIER (Innocenzo Gasparini Institute for Economic Research), Bocconi University.
    2. Fan, Linlin & Nogueira, Lia & Baylis, Katherine R., 2013. "Agricultural Market Reforms and Nutritional Transition in Rural China," 2013 Annual Meeting, August 4-6, 2013, Washington, D.C. 150203, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.
    3. Headey, Derek D. & Ecker, Olivier, 2012. "Improving the measurement of food security:," IFPRI discussion papers 1225, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
    4. Ingvild Almas & Anders Kjelsrud & Rohini Somanathan, 2013. "A Behaviour-Based Approach To The Estimation Of Poverty In India," Working papers 226, Centre for Development Economics, Delhi School of Economics.
    5. Prashant Bharadwaj & Leah K. Lakdawala & Nicholas Li, 2013. "Perverse Consequences of Well Intentioned Regulation: Evidence from India's Child Labor Ban," NBER Working Papers 19602, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Headey, Derek & Chiu, Alice & Kadiyala, Suneetha, 2011. "Agriculture's role in the Indian enigma: Help or hindrance to the undernutrition crisis?," IFPRI discussion papers 1085, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

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