Global Hunger Index 2021

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  • In the 2021 Global Hunger Index, India ranks 101st out of the 116 countries with sufficient data to calculate 2021 GHI scores. With a score of 27.5, India has a level of hunger that is serious.
  • This year’s slide in the rank assumes significance especially in the context of COVID-19.


  • GS I- Social Issues- Health & Nutrition.

Important Terms

  • Hunger is usually understood to refer to the distress associated with a lack of sufficient calories. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) defines food deprivation, or undernourishment, as the consumption of too few calories to provide the minimum amount of dietary energy that each individual requires to live a healthy and productive life, given that person’s sex, age, stature, and physical activity level.
  • Undernutrition goes beyond calories and signifies deficiencies in any or all of the following: energy, protein, and/ or essential vitamins and minerals. Undernutrition is the result of inadequate intake of food in terms of either quantity or quality, poor utilization of nutrients due to infections or other illnesses, or a combination of these factors.
  • These, in turn, are caused by a range of factors, including household food insecurity; inadequate maternal health or childcare practices; or inadequate access to health services, safe water, and sanitation.
  • Malnutrition refers more broadly to both undernutrition (problems caused by deficiencies) and overnutrition (problems caused by unbalanced diets, such as consuming too many calories in relation to requirements with or without the low intake of micronutrient-rich foods).
  • Wasting is defined as low weight-for-height. It often indicates recent and severe weight loss, although it can also persist for a long time. It usually occurs when a person has not had food of adequate quality and quantity and/or they have had frequent or prolonged illnesses. Wasting in children is associated with a higher risk of death if not treated properly.
  • Stunting is defined as low height-for-age. It is the result of chronic or recurrent undernutrition, usually associated with poverty, poor maternal health and nutrition, frequent illness and/or inappropriate feeding and care in early life. Stunting prevents children from reaching their physical and cognitive potential.
  • Underweight is defined as low weight-for-age. A child who is underweight may be stunted, wasted or both.


India's Performance in Global Hunger Index

What progress has India made according to the GHI?

  • Since 2000, India has made substantial progress, but there are still areas of concern, particularly regarding child nutrition.
  • India’s GHI score has decreased from a 2000 GHI score of 38.8 points– considered alarming- to a 2021 GHI score of 27.5- considered serious.
  • The proportion of undernourished in the population and the under-five child mortality rate is now at relatively low levels. While child stunting has seen a significant decrease- from 54.2% in 1998–1999 to 34.7% in 2016–2018- it is still considered very high.
  • At 17.3% – according to the latest data- India has the highest child wasting rate of all countries covered in the GHI. This rate is slightly higher than it was in 1998–1999 when it was 17.1%.
  • It is important to note that any developments in 2021 are not yet reflected in the latest prevalence of undernourishment data, which covers 2018-2020. The full effects of the Covid-19 pandemic will likely only be reflected in the GHI data in the coming years.

What is the reason for the choice of GHI indicators?

  • The problem of hunger is complex. The GHI includes four indicators to reflect the multidimensional nature of hunger. Together, they reflect deficiencies in calories as well as in micronutrients.
  • The Global Hunger Index is a report that is peer-reviewed by external experts. The methodology has long been established and tested.
  • By combining the proportion of undernourished in the population (1/3 of the GHI score) with the indicators relating to children under age five (2/3 of the GHI score), the GHI ensures that both the food supply situation of the population as a whole and the effects of inadequate nutrition are captured.
  • Inequitable resource allocations between households and within households are also taken into consideration to reflect the effect of the latter on the physical well-being of children. Sufficient food availability at the household level does not guarantee that all household members benefit from it in equal measure.
  • Children’s nutritional status deserves particular attention because a deficiency of nutrients places them at high risk of physical and mental impairment and death.
  • For many children who die from infectious diseases, the indirect cause of death is a weakened immune system due to a lack of dietary energy, vitamins, and minerals.
  • Since the first three indicators- the proportion of undernourished and the prevalence of wasting and stunting in children- do not capture premature death as the most tragic consequence of hunger, the under-five mortality rate is also included.
  • The international community – including India – has agreed upon the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and the GHI uses indicators that are part of the internationally recognized indicator set to measure progress toward the SDGs.
  • The prevalence of undernourishment is recognized as one indicator for UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2.1 on ensuring access to safe, nutritious, and sufficient food for all. Reducing child stunting and wasting by 2025 is not only an internationally agreed World Health Assembly target but child stunting and wasting rates are also recognized as indicators to track progress on SDG 2.2 on ending all forms of malnutrition.
  • Reducing preventable deaths of children under five years of age is listed as SDG 3.2.

India's Objection to GHI

  • The GHI is largely children-oriented with a higher emphasis on undernutrition than on hunger and its hidden forms, including micronutrient deficiencies.
  • Except for the first component (Which is insufficient calorie intake) all the remaining three — wasting (low weight for height), stunting (low height for age) and mortality — are confined to children under five years.
  • Calorie insufficiency (The first component) does not always indicate deficiency:
    • Because the low-calorie intake can have several reasons:
      • reduced physical activity,
      • better social infrastructure (road, transport and healthcare)
      • access to energy-saving appliances at home, among others.
  • It is difficult to formulate a uniform calorie norm for the whole country: For Example:
    • Given the diet in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, they may get counted as calorie deficient despite them being better in nutritional outcome indicators.

GHI’s criticism on child undernutrition is hardly credible-

  • Child stunting in India declined from 54.2% in 1998–2002 to 34.7% in 2016-2020, whereas child wasting remains around 17% throughout the two decades of the 21st century.
  • Hence, The low ranking does not mean that India fares uniformly poor in every aspect. Should we then dismiss the GHI as it shows India in a bad light and relegate it to political white noise because it does not suit us?
  • This ranking should prompt us to look at our policy focus and interventions and ensure that they can effectively address the concerns raised by the GHI, especially against pandemic-induced nutrition insecurity.

What does NFHS 5 Survey say about Malnutrition in India


  • Acute malnutrition among children under five increased significantly in Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Assam, Telangana and Bihar, whereas Karnataka registered a noteworthy decline according to NFHS 5.
  • Every fourth child in Bihar, Gujarat and Maharashtra, and every fifth kid in Assam, Telangana, West Bengal, Karnataka, Nagaland, Goa and Jammu and Kashmir are thin for their age.


  • 13 out of 22 states and UTs surveyed, recorded a rise in the percentage of stunting in children.


  • 12 out of 22 states and UTs surveyed, recorded a rise in the percentage of children under five years who are wasted in comparison to NFHS-4.


  • 20 states and UTs have recorded a rise in the percentage of children under 5 years who are overweight.


  • Children with diarrhoea in the two weeks preceding the survey also jumped to 7.2% from 6.6%

Infant & Child Mortalities; NMR, IMR and U5MR

  • Infant and child mortality rates across most Indian states have declined.
  • Sikkim, Jammu & Kashmir, Goa and Assam were the best performers as they witnessed a steep reduction in neonatal mortality rate (NMR), infant mortality rate (IMR) and under-five mortality rate (U5MR).
  • Tripura, Andaman & Nicobar Island, Meghalaya and Manipur Recorded a spike in all three categories of child mortality.
  • Bihar registered the highest prevalence of NMR (34), IMR (47), and U5MR (56) across 22 surveyed states and Union territories while Kerala reported the lowest death rates.
  • The child mortality rate of Maharashtra remained unchanged in the last five years.

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