Vegetable vendor
Vegetable vendorReuters

Every three in four Indians do not have enough income to buy fruits and vegetables, according to a new Lancet report that calculated food intake among people of different countries on the basis of gross national income per person.

The research undertaken by the British medical journal found that affordability is the crucial reason why the average global intake of fruits and vegetables to be below the prescribed levels. In low-income countries, such as India, only 27% of the population could expect to eat above the prescribed minimum – defined as at least two servings of fruits and three servings of vegetables per person per day.

The study undertaken over 10 years starting from Jan. 1, 2003, is based on responses received from 157,000 adults aged 35-70 years in 18 countries and five continents. The researchers considered 143,000 respondents as the rest did not report "plausible energy intake" in the range of 500-5,000 kilo calories per day.

Analysis of the collected data revealed a direct relationship with the average income of a country and the average consumption of fruits and vegetables. For most, consumption levels are lower than the required number of servings.

Four broad groups of countries were selected: high-income (Canada, Sweden, United Arab Emirates); upper-middle income (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Malaysia, Poland, Turkey, South Africa); low-middle income (China, Colombia, Iran, Occupied Palestinian Territory) and low income (Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Zimbabwe.)

The cause for lower consumption levels in poorer countries is due to varying price levels in proportion to overall income levels. In purchasing power parity terms, vegetables are cheapest in low-income countries, while fruits are the most expensive. Income requirements are higher in rural areas than in urban areas.

However, the real difference lies in the cost of one serving of fruit or vegetable as a share of income per household. These values for low-income countries are in multiples of 19 and 50 for vegetables and fruits in comparison with their respective levels in high-income countries.

Most low-income countries have a generally high share of population who cannot afford the required servings of fruits and vegetables. To bridge the gap, it would require more than half of the household's income to be spent in achieving consumption levels. In contrast, for high income countries, this requirement drops to 2%.

Another related study points out how despite India's horticultural production tripling since 1991-92, increase in India's fruit and vegetable intake has been much less than that in China. The two countries fall in different economic groups.

The Lancet study also references an old report that warns that the lack of enough fruits and vegetables in the diet was responsible for 1.7 million deaths globally, while recommending an increase in the availability and affordability to improve the quality of diet of most people in low-income and low-middle income countries.