In Search of India's Missing Calories: Energy Requirements and Calorie Consumption

Nicholas Li, University of California, Berkeley
Shari Eli, University of California, Berkeley

Although cross-sectional calorie-expenditure elasticities are positive in India and there has been significant real expenditure growth, measured caloric intake declined over the 1983-2005 period. This pattern is also reflected in rural-urban caloric disparities. We explore the energy requirements hypothesis of Deaton and Dreze (2009) as an explanation for India's “missing” calories. We analyze a stylized model that relates energy requirements to calorie and food Engel curves. Combining time-use and consumption data we show that caloric intake and requirements track each other closely over a series of demographic, occupational and other household variables. Quantitatively our results provide strong support for the energy requirements hypothesis as an explanation for rural-urban calorie gaps, but weaker support for changes over time, suggesting that other factors are important. We also provide some alternative measures of poverty and hunger and analyze the welfare gains from lower energy requirements.

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Presented in Poster Session 3