The average calorie intake has declined as non-food items take precedence in expenditure amid the rising household income, according to data from the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics.
Income and expenditure per household increased 39 percent and 40 percent respectively between 2010 and 2016, but calorie intake has gone down 4.65 percent during the period, according to the Household Income and Expenditure Survey (HIES) 2016 released yesterday.
This is a puzzle because calorie intake in Bangladesh has a direct impact on poverty calculation, meaning that a decline in consumption can push up the poverty level.
But that was not the case as poverty dropped to 24.3 percent in 2016 from 31.5 percent in 2010.
Bangladesh’s robust GDP growth, which averaged 7 percent in the last five years, also contradicts the falling calorie intake.
A decline in rice and wheat consumption may account for the falling calorie intake. But this is also puzzling as the intake of fish, meat and egg has increased significantly between 2010 and 2016.
Per capita calorie intake declined 107.9 kilo-calories (Kcal) to 2,210.4 Kcal a day in 2016 from 2,318.3 Kcal six years ago.
But the decrease was higher -- 113.8 Kcal -- in urban areas. Rural areas witnessed a decline of 104.4 Kcal.
Consumers’ food habit changes with the rise in income level, said Krishna Gayen, director general of the BBS, adding that higher spending on non-food items also affects food intake.
“People spend the majority of their income to meet the demand for non-food items, including house rent and education for children,” Gayen added.
The share of expenditure for non-food items increased to 52.3 percent in 2016 from 45.2 percent six years earlier.
Khondaker Golam Moazzem, research director of the Centre for Policy Dialogue, also attributed the drop in calorie intake on inflationary pressure on non-food items.
“Low-income people have to spend most of their earnings to meet their needs for non-food items.”
If calorie intake of the low-income people declines, the government should take initiative to reduce their expenditure on non-food items, such as schooling and medical care, he added.
The decline in rice consumption may cause a decrease in calorie intake, said Zahid Hussain, lead economist of the World Bank’s Dhaka office.
“But it is really tough to reveal the reason for a decline in calorie intake,” he said, adding that there is a direct relation between calorie intake and poverty calculation.
But, the findings of the BBS are not below the calorie intake threshold.
Hussain, however, said normally calorie intake declines with improvement in people’s economic condition.
However, a nutritionist sees nothing bad in falling calorie intake.
“A decline in calorie consumption is not a problem if one consumes the required calorie every day,” said Md Nazrul Islam Khan, professor of the Institute of Nutrition and Food Science of Dhaka University.
At least 2,186 Kcal is required for an adult person every day. However, a person who works hard needs to consume more.
“If the calorie intake declines due to cutting back on rice and wheat and not because of non-carbohydrate items like vegetable, fish, meat, egg and fruit, then it is good for health,” Khan said.
Balanced diet is essential for sound health.
“55 to 60 percent calorie intake from carbohydrate is okay, but people in Bangladesh get 65 to 70 percent of their calories from rice and wheat,” Khan added.