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Measuring Hunger in the Russian Federation

Summary of published paper.

Between February 1992 and May 1994 CARE US responded to the health and food security crisis in the former Soviet Union by establishing a survey unit whose task was to identify nutritionally vulnerable groups and to assess their needs. CARE conducted nutritional surveys in Moscow, St Petersburg and Ekaterinburg and their surrounding rural areas (Oblasts). The survey involved an assessment of anthropometric and iron status and also used the Radimer/Cornell hunger scale to measure the prevalence of hunger. This scale was first used in New York State in 1988 and 1993 to identify households experiencing hunger defined in terms of "the inability to acquire or consume an adequate quality or sufficient quantity of food in socially acceptable ways or the uncertainty that one will be able to do so". Figure 1 gives questions from the survey. A recently published article presents the Soviet Union survey results and compares these with those from the New York survey. Survey findings and value of the methodology are also discussed.


The Russian study design was based on a crosssectional representative sample of 4860 children under 2 years of age. Two stage cluster sampling was used in the cities and three stage sampling in the Oblasts. Approximately 800 mothers were questioned in each of six study sites. The survey included questions on the socioeconomic status of the household, dietary assessment, anthropometry and the Radimer/Cornell hunger scale. The 12 items in the scale measured hunger at three levels: household, women, and children. If the mother answered positively to one of the four items at a particular level, hunger was established for that level.


The prevalence of hunger in the Russian Federation was very high: approximately 77% of the women surveyed, 70% of the households, and 32% of the children were classified as hungry. The corresponding estimated prevalence of hunger in New York State in 1993 were 46.8%, 25.9% and 18.3% respectively. In both surveys children were the least likely to be classified as hungry and, if they were, their mothers and households were almost always hungry. Basic indicators of household socioeconomic and demographic wellbeing were highly related to the three levels of hunger. The higher level of hunger in the Russian survey can be explained by the very low incomes. However, the nutritional measurements found less than 3% below -2 SD weight for age and 25% anaemia as measured by a haemoglobin level of less than 11g/dl in under two year olds.


The authors postulated that the low prevalence of child underweight indicated that energy needs were being met while the high level of anaemia showed that food quality was deteriorating. Mothers reported marked reductions in consumption of meat and fruit. The authors suggest that the Radimer/Cornell hunger scale may be useful in providing early warning that dietary quality and diversity in a population are worsening before frank malnutrition (as measured by anthropometry) becomes prevalent and that this hunger scale seems appropriate for measuring hunger in the Russian Federation.

Also, classifying individuals on the basis of household and individual hunger is a simple and straightforward way of identifying those households that would benefit from different kinds of intervention. The authors concluded that the scale should be studied further as a rapid assessment or early warning tool.

Measuring Hunger in the Russian Federation Using the Radimer/Cornell Hunger Scale:K.J. Welch, N.Mock, and O.Netrebenko: Bulletin of the World Health Organisation, 1998, Vol 76 (2), pp143-148

Figure 1 % in Russian Federation  
  Cities Oblasts % in New York
Prevalence of household hunger 71.9 67.1 46.8
Household hunger items
1. I worry whether my food will run out before I get money to buy more (qualitative) 56.3 58.6 39.0
2. The food I bought just didn't last and I didn't have money to get more (quantitative) 42.6 44.6 22.3
3. I ran out of the foods that I needed to put together a meal and didn't have money to get more food (quantitative) 42.5 41.9 29.6
4. I worry about where the next day's food is going to come from (qualitative) 54.0 50.2 13.2
Prevalence of women's hunger 79.1 75.0 25.9
Women's hunger items
1. I can't afford to eat the way I should (qualitative) 70.8 66.3 22.6
2. I can't afford to eat properly (qualitative) 58.9 60.5 23.2
3. I am often hungry, but I don't eat because I can't afford enough food (quantitative) 11.9 11.9 9.8
4. I eat less than I think I should because I don't have enough money for food (quantitative) 28.2 24.9 14.8
Prevalence of children's hunger 33.3 29.8 18.3
Children's hunger items
1. I can't afford to feed my child(ren) a balanced meal because I can't afford that (qualitative) 25.0 26.1 15.1
2. I can't afford to feed my child(ren) the way I think I should (qualitative) 29.7 28.0 26.9
3. My child(ren) is/are not eating enough because I just can't afford enough food (quantitative) 15.2 12.0 7.1
4. I know my child(ren) is/are hungry somtimes, but I just can't afford more food (quantitative) 2.8 2.6 8.5

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Reference this page

Measuring Hunger in the Russian Federation. Field Exchange 6, February 1999. p7.