A new study, published in World Development, warns that household nutrient intakes in China have decreased in the past 20 years, despite economic growth.
Using household data from 1989 to 2009, the team led by Jing You of Renmin University of China, in collaboration with researchers from the UK, India and the USA, report that overall the pattern of income growth, rising food prices and their volatilities “appear to jointly explain the paradoxical rising income and declining nutrient intake in China.”
“Interventions have to be tailored to serve better urban and rural population, respectively,” warned the team. “For the former, more pro- (nutritionally) poor income growth would enhance nutrient intake and narrow nutrition inequality between households to some extent.”
“For the latter, growth of crop income is of paramount importance. Moreover, community development is also a policy instrument to promote rural household nutrients’ intakes,” they said.
Mean nutrient intake
You and colleagues analysed Chinese household data for 1989–2009 in a bid to determine why mean nutrient intake has declined despite economic growth. They reported that in rural areas household per capita net income is negatively and significantly associated with ‘total calorie’ and ‘protein’ intake.
While this appears to be counter-intuitive, further investigation of the data would allow an explanation, said the team – noting that the result appears to be influenced by households whose income lies just above the median income.
“If we split the households into quantiles in each wave according to their per capita income and calculate the change of total calorie intake and three macronutrients, then the third quartile is found to have experienced the largest decline in total calorie intake (…) and protein consumption (…) than other quartiles,” said the authors.
Additionally, they noted that the shift of energy source toward fat rather than protein has coincided with a trend for households to consume more westernized foods like fast food and snacks.
“Furthermore, uncertainties in terms of soaring and volatile food prices that have recently been observed all over the world suggest substantial but different effects on household nutrient demand, varying with specific food commodities,” You and colleagues added.
They suggested that in urban areas other factors, such as increases in food prices and their volatilities, plus an aging population “can easily offset the weak income effects.”
Indeed, higher food prices and their fluctuations may have resulted in higher nutrition poverty despite high-income growth of urban households, they confirmed.
Source: World Development
Volume 77, January 2017, Pages 171–191, doi: 10.1016/j.worlddev.2015.08.016
“Declining Nutrient Intake in a Growing China: Does Household Heterogeneity Matter?”
Authors: Jing You, et al