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Global Nutrition Index

Summary of research1

Researchers have recently developed a global nutritional index (GNI) modelled on the human development index. It is based on three indicators of nutritional status: deficits, excess and food security. The aim of the GNI is to provide a single statistic for each country according to its overall level of nutrition. There is currently no worldwide nutrition index to assess a nation's overall nutrition status, i.e. not just hunger. Such an index could be used by international agencies and governments to set priorities and targets in combating problems of malnutrition (both deficiency and excess) and improving human well-being and productivity.

To measure nutritional deficit, the agestandardised disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) lost per 100,000 population due to nutritional factors was chosen. This measure, compiled by the Global Burden of Disease Project, measures the burden of disease caused by protein-energy malnutrition, as well as that caused by micronutrient deficiency. Obesity was measured with the use of World Health Organisation (WHO) data for international comparisons of obesity in 2005, expressed as the percentage of women aged 15-100 years with a Body Mass Index (BMI) greater than or equal to 30. Food security was measured with the use of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) statistic on the percentage of the population undernourished. This statistic takes into account the level of inequality in access to food within a country. It ranges from less than 2.5 for most developed countries, to 77 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Calculations were made within four groups of countries (32 developed countries, 26 countries in transition, 64 low-mortality developing countries and 70 high-mortality developing countries, as well as between them - the Global Nutrition Index World wide (GNIg). Complete data were available for 192 countries.

The ranking of the highest and lowest countries in the four groups (with their GNIg values) is as follows: developed countries - Japan 1 (0.989), United States 99 (0.806); countries in transition - Estonia 10 (0.943), Tajikistan 173 (0.629); low-mortality developing countries - Republic of Korea 12 (0.939), Nauru 185 (0.565); high-mortality developing countries - Algeria 47 (0.876), Sierra Leone 192 (0.420). A 'double burden', where nutrient deficits and excesses co-exist in the same country, was seen in Mauritania (rank 157), South Africa (rank 146), Samoa (rank 157), Lesotho (rank 160), and Fiji (rank 169). The correlation between GNIg and Human Development Index (HDI) was intermediate (0.74, 55% of variance explained), demonstrating that good nutrition and development are not necessarily synonymous.

Countries may be developed yet have a low GNIg (e.g. Australia, Canada and the US) and vice versa (e.g. Indonesia and China).

The authors conclude that as nutrition is fundamental to a nation's health and productivity, the GNI and GNIg should be used alongside the HDI to obtain an optimal index of a country's overall well-being.

Show footnotes

1Rosenbloom. J, Kaluski. D and Berry. E (2008). A Global Nutritional Index. Food and Nutrition Bulletin, vol 29, no 4, p 266-275.

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Global Nutrition Index. Field Exchange 36, July 2009. p5. www.ennonline.net/fex/36/global

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