Scandinavian Working Papers in Economics

Seminar Papers,
Stockholm University, Institute for International Economic Studies

No 656: 841 Million Undernourished? On the Tyranny of Deriving a Number

Peter Svedberg ()
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Peter Svedberg: Institute for International Economic Studies, Stockholm University, Postal: Stockholm University, S-106 69 Stockholm, Sweden

Abstract: The FAO provides estimates of the prevalence of undernutrition which are claimed to be comparable over countries and time. These estimates form the empirical foundation for the resolution adopted by 186 governments at the World Food summit in 1996, with the intent of reducing the number of undernourished people by half before the year 2015. In this paper, it is demonstrated that the FAO estimates are unreliable indicators of the scope of the undernutrition problem, that they erroneously find chronic undernutrition to be most prevalent in Africa, and that they tend to direct policy in the wrong direction. Anthropometric measurements are argued to be more reliable and relevant for all purposes for which indicators of undernutrition are needed.

Keywords: UNdernutrition; Measurements; FAO; Africa

JEL-codes: I12; J13; O19; Q11

48 pages, October 10, 1998

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