1.9 Proportion of population below minimum level of dietary energy consumption

Modified on 2012/02/21 09:12 by MDG Wiki Handbook — Categorized as: Goal 1, Official List of Indicators



Goal 1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
Target 1.C: Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger


The proportion of the population below the minimum level of dietary energy consumption, referred to as the proportion of undernourished people, is defined as the proportion of people in a population who suffer from hunger or food deprivation.

This indicator is expressed as a percentage.

Undernourishment refers to the condition of people whose food consumption is continuously below a minimum dietary energy requirement for maintaining an acceptable minimum body size, a healthy life and carrying out light physical activity.

The estimate of the proportion of undernourished people is a measure of food deprivation based on the following three parameters:
The food available for human consumption is the sum of domestically produced and imported food products, minus food exports, food withdrawn from stocks for purposes other than consumption and food losses. This is then converted into dietary energy terms expressed in kilo-calories and divided by the total population and the number of days in the year to come up with the average dietary energy consumption per person per day. To smooth annual fluctuations, a three-year average is calculated.

The level of inequality in access to food is measured by two coefficients: (1) the variation of dietary energy consumption due to income differences derived from food consumption and income data collected in household surveys; (2) the variation of dietary energy consumption due to biological factors derived from anthropometric survey data on attained height by sex and age, standards on energy requirements and data on the country sex-age population structure. Inequality in access to food due to income differences may be affected by changes in economic, socio-political and environmental factors such as physical availability of food and prices. Inequality in access to food due to biological factors reflects sex and age ranges in the total population and is affected by the population ageing.

The minimum level of dietary energy requirements, or cut-off point, is derived using energy standards established by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, World Health Organization and United Nations University (FAO/WHO/UNU) for different sex and age groups performing sedentary physical activity and with a minimum acceptable body-weight for attained heights. Since a large adult needs almost double the dietary energy of a three-year old child, the minimum energy requirement per person for each country should take into account its mix of age, gender and body sizes. The cut-off point for the purpose of estimating undernourishment is calculated nationally as a population per person per day average value, based on dietary energy needed by different age and gender groups and the proportion of the population represented by each age group for a given year.

Method of computation
As it is not feasible to determine the precise energy consumption of individuals, the estimate of the proportion of individuals with insufficient energy consumption is defined within a probability distribution framework, as follows:


The graph above illustrates the assumption that dietary energy consumption follows a log normal distribution. The curve depicts the proportion of the population corresponding to different per person per day dietary energy consumption levels (x) represented by the horizontal line. The area under the curve up to the minimum acceptable dietary energy consumption (rL) represents the proportion of the population below the minimum level of dietary energy consumption or the proportion of the population undernourished (pU).


This indicator measures an important aspect of the food insecurity of a population and the capacity for sustainable development which demands efforts to reduce poverty, including finding solutions to hunger and malnutrition. Alleviating hunger is a prerequisite for sustainable poverty reduction since under-nourishment seriously affects, among other things, labour productivity, health and learning capacity and hence earning propensity. It is necessary to use both food deprivation and child malnutrition (Indicator 1.8) indicators to have a comprehensive understanding of changes in the food and nutrition situation of countries.

The indicator ranges from 0 (no undernourished population) to 100 (the entire population is undernourished). A higher value of this indicator, means that more people suffer from undernourishment (food deprivation) in a given country. The following undernourishment categories for a population are considered the most common: Changes in the indicator guide governments and international organizations in formulating policies and implementing actions towards: improving food availability and access by the population, decreasing the negative impact of increasing income inequalities on food access and coping with trends in food needs generated by the impact of population policies.


Data are usually produced by national statistical offices, ministries of agriculture and other national institutions that prepare national food balances or are concerned with national food security. Data on food production and trade are generally available on a yearly basis. Food production data are compiled in accordance with the agricultural calendar, while trade data are compiled in accordance with the business calendar. Undernourishment estimates are derived for three-year periods to account for differences between these calendars.

Data for the calculation of this indicator could be obtained from the following sources:
The accuracy of dietary energy consumption estimates varies from country to country. Evaluation of accuracy is done through consistency checks, based on complete revisions of all related information (concepts, definitions and methods).

Country data on changes in the variance of the distribution of dietary energy consumption due to income variations in the population have been limited during the last three decades. This is because food consumption data collected in national household surveys need to be converted to dietary energy consumption in order to be utilized. Also, data on height secular trends by sex and age-groups are scarce since countries don’t usually conduct regular anthropometric surveys in the total population.

Data on population structure by sex and age group are updated periodically. Changes in the age-sex structure of the population impact both minimum dietary energy consumption and the variance of dietary energy consumption. Therefore, these changes need to be taken into account.


In assessing food insecurity, it is important to consider geographical areas that may be particularly vulnerable (such as areas with a high probability of major variations in food production or supply, or areas that are subject to natural disasters or are not well connected to markets) and the population groups whose access to food is precarious or sporadic (due to structural or economic vulnerabilities), such as particular ethnic or social groups. Gender differences may also be more pronounced in some social and ethnic groups.

To support disaggregated estimates, food consumption data collected through National Household Budget Surveys are used to estimate the proportion of undernourished people in various population groups at sub-national levels (defined geographically or by household or household member characteristics).


In the methodology for estimating the proportion of undernourished people, a basic problem concerns the use of energy requirement norms and energy consumption for individuals. Even after taking into account the most influential factors on energy requirements and consumption, such as age, sex, body weight and activity, differences exist in the energy requirement of individuals. As it is not feasible to determine the energy consumption of individuals, the estimate of the proportion of individuals with insufficient energy consumption is defined within a probability distribution framework, which means that the results are not always 100 per cent accurate.

For many countries, the reliability of the underlying data and measures of inequality are uncertain. A relatively small variation in just one of these parameters can produce significant differences in a country’s estimated levels of hunger. Furthermore, estimates based on national production and trade figures cannot be used to pinpoint whether hunger has become concentrated in specific geographic areas and/or socio-economic groups.

This indicator is based on quantities of food that are available and accessible for human consumption but it does not take into account the quality of the food. Food deprivation can decrease because people have reached minimum levels of energy requirements, but people can still face deficiencies due to insufficient quantities of vitamins and minerals, as well as deficiencies in protein and essential amino-acids that are required for proper body growth and maintenance.


Intra-household access to food may show disparities by sex. Also, cultural patterns of distribution and nutritional taboos may affect women’s nutrition. Women’s higher requirements for iron during pregnancy and breast-feeding may result in iron deficiency anaemia, which affects the result of pregnancy and may increase women’s susceptibility to diseases. Therefore, whenever household survey food consumption data are available by sex, efforts should be made to conduct gender-based undernourishment analyses, including analyses of iron available in diets.


FAO is the agency responsible for compiling and monitoring this indicator at the global level, and for producing regional aggregates periodically.

Average food available for human consumption comes from national “food balance sheets” compiled by FAO every year. FAO then divides the energy equivalent of the available food by the total population to come up with the amount of average daily energy consumption. Data from household surveys are used to derive a coefficient of variation to account for the degree of inequality in access to food. The minimum dietary energy requirement level is derived from the FAO/WHO/UNU energy standards for different sex and age population groups.

A number of countries have estimated the proportion of undernourished people at national and sub-national levels using the FAO methodology, but using different sources of data on the amount of food available for human consumption. Private food consumption data are collected in household surveys that do not necessarily coincide with international level estimates which are derived from national food balances.

The national estimate is based on food consumed in households while the international estimate includes not only household food consumption but also public food consumption, except the food consumed by tourists and other non-local population groups (e.g. refugees). Public food consumption occurs in establishments such as prisons, hospitals, hotels, military barracks, residences and public food services (e.g. Red Cross).

Estimates for regional and sub regional monitoring are aggregated by adding up the number of undernourished people in each country within a region or sub-region and dividing this sum by the total population of the same region or sub-region.




Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Food Security Statistics. Rome. Internet site http://www.fao.org/faostat/foodsecurity.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (annual). The State of Food Insecurity in the World. Rome. Available from http://www.fao.org/publications/sofi.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2002). FAO Methodology for Estimating the Prevalence of Undernourishment. In Proceedings of the International Scientific Symposium on Measurement and Assessment of Food Deprivation and Undernutrition. Rome. Available from http://www.fao.org/docrep/005/Y4249E/Y4249E00.htm.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2008). FAO Methodology for the Measurement of Food Deprivation: Updating the minimum dietary energy requirements. Rome. Available from http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/templates/ess/documents/food_security_statistics/metadata/undernourishment_methodology.pdf.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, United Nations University and World Health Organization (2004). Human Energy Requirements. Report of a Joint FAO/WHO/UNU Expert Consultation. 17-24 October 2001. Rome. Available from http://www.fao.org/docrep/007/Y5686E/y5686e00.htm.

World Health Organization (2006). WHO Child Growth Standards: BMI for age tables. Geneva. Available from http://www.who.int/childgrowth/standards/bmi_for_age/en/index.html.

World Health Organization (2007). WHO Growth reference 5-19 years: BMI for age tables. Geneva. Available from http://www.who.int/growthref/who2007_bmi_for_age/en/index.html.