5. Proportion of the population below minimum level of dietary energy consumption



Proportion of the population below the minimum level of dietary energy consumption is the percentage of the population whose food intake falls below the minimum level of dietary energy requirements. This is also referred to as the prevalence of under-nourishment, which is the percentage of the population that is undernourished.


Goal/target addressed

Goal 1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.

Target 2. Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger.



The indicator measures an important aspect of the food insecurity of a population. Sustainable development demands a concerted effort to reduce poverty, including finding solutions to hunger and malnutrition. Alleviating hunger is a prerequisite for sustainable poverty reduction since under-nourishment seriously affects labour productivity and earning capacity. Malnutrition can be the outcome of a range of circumstances. In order to work, poverty reduction strategies must address food access, availability (physical and economical) and safety.


Method of computation

Estimation of the proportion of people with insufficient food (under-nourishment) involves specification of the distribution of dietary energy consumption, considering the total food availability (from national global statistics) and inequality in access to food (from national household surveys). The distribution is assumed to be unimodal and skewed. The log-normal function is used in estimating the proportion of the population below a minimum energy requirement level or cut-off point. The cut-off point is estimated as a population per capita average value, based on dietary energy needed by different age and gender groups and the proportion of the population represented by each age group.


The estimates are not normally available in countries. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) prepares these estimates at the national level. These are then aggregated to obtain regional and global estimates.


Data collection and source

The main data sources are country statistics on local food production, trade, stocks and non-food uses; food consumption data from national household surveys; country anthropometric data by gender and age and UN country population estimates, total and by gender and age.



“The State of Food Insecurity in the World”, annual, Food and Agriculture Organization.

Proceedings of the International Scientific Symposium on Measurement and Assessment of Food Deprivation and Undernutrition, “FAO Methodology for Estimating the Prevalence of Undernourishment”, 2002, Food Insecurity and Vulnerability Information and Mapping Systems, Food and Agriculture Organization.


Periodicity of measurement

Estimates for the most recent period and for selected benchmark periods (expressed as three-year averages) are reported every year.


Gender issues

Intrahousehold access to food may show disparities by gender. 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 anemia, which affects the result of pregnancy and may increase women’s susceptibility to diseases. Although food consumption data do not allow for disaggregation by gender, whenever household survey data are available by gender, efforts should be made to conduct a gender-based analysis.


Disaggregation issues

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 production or supply or areas subject to natural disasters) and the population groups whose access to food is precarious or sporadic (structural or economic vulnerability), such as ethnic or social groups. However, showing and analyzing data on specific ethnic groups may be a sensitive issue in the country. Gender differences may also be more pronounced in some social and ethnic groups.


Considering the need for disaggregated estimates, the FAO methodology has been expanded for measuring the extent of food deprivation at subnational levels, making appropriate use of available household survey data. To support countries in preparing disaggregated estimates, FAO is conducting capacity building activities for national statistical offices.


International data comparisons

The State of Food Security in the World, annual, Food and Agriculture Organization.


Comments and limitations

The methods and data used by FAO have implications for the precise meaning and significance of resulting estimates for assessment and policy-making. First, the estimates are based on food acquired by (or available to) the households rather than the actual food intake of individual household members. Second, any inequity in intrahousehold access to food is not taken into account. Third, changes in relative inequality of food distribution through the assessed periods are not considered. However FAO is monitoring any evidence of significant changes over time that would require adjustment to the current estimation procedure.


Indicators should not be used in isolation. Monitoring of the hunger reduction target addresses two related problems: food deprivation and child malnutrition. Analysis of food deprivation is based on estimates of the prevalence of undernourishment in the whole population. Analysis of child malnutrition is based on estimates of underweight prevalence in the child population. This is an indicator of nutritional status of individual children (adequate weight for a given age), and the final outcome depends not only on food adequacy but also on other multiple factors such as infections, environmental conditions and care. Therefore, the combined use of both indicators would enhance the understanding of the changes in the food and nutrition situation.



Food and Agriculture Organization.