India contains the majority of the world’s malnourished children, yet malnutrition has declined only very slowly in recent years, despite rapid economic growth and apparent improvements in food security. Understanding and addressing the causes of malnutrition in India is therefore a critically important objective. Most research on these issues has focused on nutrition-specific interventions rather than the broader economic processes that also influence nutritional change. In light of this knowledge gap, this paper focuses on linkages between nutrition and household incomes, as well as agricultural production. To do so, we use a relatively recent nationally representative household survey from India, the 2004/05 India Human Development Survey. First we explore the relationships between household income and anthropometric indicators, controlling for a range of other determinants of nutrition. We also test hypotheses related to the perceived importance of agricultural income and production conditions, such as irrigation and ownership of land and livestock. Our results suggest that the income gradient for undernutrition is indeed quite weak, although non-income determinants such as female secondary education, access to safe water and sanitation facilities, antenatal checkups, and children’s vaccinations all have significant effects on child nutrition. We also find some evidence that agricultural production conditions—particularly irrigation and ownership of livestock—substantially influence household dietary diversity. The findings imply that income growth alone will likely have only modest impacts on malnutrition unless it is accompanied by improved health and education outcomes. For agriculture, the results also suggest some important nutritional entry points in terms of irrigation, crop diversification, and livestock ownership.
Insights from a nationally representative survey
International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)