Nutritional Outcomes

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The poverty headcount is conceptually a nutrition-based standard of welfare,

since the poverty line is constructed to refl ect the expenditure necessary to

purchase a food bundle that provides a minimum acceptable number of

calories per day. One way to validate offi cial poverty statistics is to look

directly at nutritional outcomes in the population. In general these also

support the pattern of a rapid fall in poverty during the 1990s. For example,

Zhu (2001) analyzes 1995 rural household data from 19 provinces and fi nds

that 17 per cent of the rural population had a calorifi c intake below 2100

calories and 28 per cent had a calorifi c intake below 2400 calories, which at

different times were the standards used in constructing the offi cial poverty

line. She also fi nds that the prevalence of inadequate calorie consumption

is only weakly correlated with income, casting doubt on exclusive use of

income as a poverty indicator. Similarly using aggregate production, trade

and demographic data, and a minimum energy requirement of 1920 calories,

the FAO (2000) estimated that the share of the population with insuffi cient

calorie intake fell from 30 per cent in 1979–1981 to 17 per cent in 1990–1992

and to 11 per cent in 1996–1998.

A common indicator of long-term nutrition is the prevalence of stunting

in children. A national survey by WHO/UNICEF in 1992 found a stunting

rate in children of 31.4 per cent (FAO, 2000). A series of national surveys

conducted by the Ministry of Health found stunting rates of 41 per cent in

1990, 39 per cent in 1995, and 23 per cent in 1997.18 In offi cially designated

poor counties, the stunting rate was much higher. A 1995 Ministry of Health

survey found a stunting rate of 43 per cent in poor counties and the China

Rural Poverty Survey directed by the author found a stunting rate of 46

per cent among children in 6 poor counties. These stunting rates compare

with a stunting rate of 36 per cent in all developing countries, 37 per cent in

Africa and 13 per cent in Latin America (ACC/SCN, 2000). These statistics

suggest high rates of malnutrition in the poorer parts of rural PRC. They

also suggest little progress in poverty reduction in the early 1990s, but

substantial progress beginning in the mid-1990s. This pattern is consistent

with the poverty headcount estimates.

Health indicators published by the Ministry of Health show steady

progress in the quality of life in the 1990s. Interestingly, the trends in

indicators like infant, under-5 and maternal mortality rates suggest rapid

progress in the early 1990s, but less progress in the late 1990s, somewhat

contradicting the nutritional fi ndings noted above. Again, however, progress

is evident over the decade.