distribution and trends of hunger and/or for the design and implementation of anti-hunger policies, strategies and investment that seek to reverse undesirable trends. This paper focuses on indicators of chronic food insecurity.
To be useful for a comprehensive assessment, indicators of food insecurity should provide answers to at least three questions, namely: Who are the food-insecure? How many are they? And where do they live? If the purpose of the measurement goes beyond assessment and includes the design of policy responses, the indicators should also help answering the more ambitious question: Why are people food insecure, what are the underlying causes and hence, what should be done?
Numerous methods are in use to measure certain aspects of food insecurity. They can be summarized as follows:
Methods (1) to (3) currently represent the principal tool kit. Both the first and the second compare levels of nutrient consumption with levels of nutrient requirements. While both use science-based nutritional norms as requirement standards, they differ in the source of information about people’s food consumption. The first, used by FAO, calculates food available for human consumption from national food balance sheets (FBS) and uses different information sources for a statistical measure of dispersion to approximate the distribution of food consumption levels within countries. The second derives the estimates of mean as well as dispersion of food consumption from household surveys, asking respondents to recall food consumption during a reference period. The third method relies on physical measurements of people (principally weight and height measurement, often concentrating on children) as indications of their nutritional status.
The fourth method provides additional data from medical analysis. This can include clinical assessments, such as the observation of physical signs on the body that are symptomatic of nutritional disorders (e.g., loss of skin pigment, edema) or biochemical assessment through the examination of blood or urine. At the population level, health indicators such as child mortality or low birth weight are also sometimes used as proxies for nutritional status. Finally, a number of efforts have been undertaken recently to combine specific indicators into composite indicators seeking to capture several critical dimensions of food insecurity and malnutrition at the same time. The Global Hunger Index published jointly by IFPRI and the German Welthungerhilfe is such an example designed for cross-country comparison. While they do not as such generate additional measurements, composite indicators aim to facilitate communication of the comprehensive nature of food insecurity and malnutrition.
To date, a consensus among experts on the reasons for discrepancies between the results obtained from different methods is still elusive. The mentioned case of contradicting estimates of undernourishment in countries of Sub-Sahara-Africa is one such example. The apparent contradictions between only moderate estimates for the prevalence of undernourishment in the overall population of India versus the much higher rates of undernutrition among India’s children that result from anthropometric measurements are another example (see below). It is hoped that