COVID-19 and nutrition security: Findings from TCI research on Gender and Nutrition in India

by Gayatri Dewan

We conducted the 13th Consumer Pyramids Research Seminar on 18 August 2021 at 06.30PM IST.

Prof. Prabhu Pingali, Dr. Soumya Gupta, and Dr. Andaleeb Rahman from Tata-Cornell Institute for Agriculture and Nutrition and Prof. Vidya Vemireddy from IIM Ahmedabad presented

COVID-19 and nutrition security: Findings from TCI research on Gender and Nutrition in India

The presentation was based off two papers already published by researchers at TCI, as well as some work that is currently in progress. Their work was discussed by Prof. Mahendra Dev from the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research

You can view a recording of the webinar here.

Event Summary

Prof. Soumya Gupta presented the results of a study by Tata Cornell Institute (TCI) researchers on the impact of the pandemic on women’s nutritional security. The presentation lasted nearly an hour and was attended by an audience of over 170 individuals. Among the outcomes of interest were women’s empowerment in agriculture, diet diversity, and specific micronutrient deficiencies in women. The researchers were able to establish a significant, negative relation between women’s empowerment and their iron deficiency status.

The researchers found market integration to be more important for diet diversity than production diversity. They discussed markets’ central role as a source of diverse, nutritious foods for rural communities, which were adversely affected with the COVID-19 lockdowns. The government’s response of a cereal-centric expansion through PDS shifted consumption to low-quality diets, leading to a decline in women’s diet diversity.

The second study by TCI on the affordability of healthy food indicated that the cost of the EAT-Lancet diet exceeded India’s poverty line. The actual cost incurred on diets by households in the study was under one dollar, implying that individuals were unable to meet the recommended intake, particularly for non-staple food groups.

Prof. Soumya Gupta closed the presentation with a discussion on policy implications of the study, emphasizing the need for greater focus on nutrition, and adopting a gender-responsive lens for improving intra-household nutritional disadvantages.

Prof. Mahendra Dev, serving as the discussant, cautioned the researchers on the use of two different recall periods for expenditure data, and recommended looking at total expenditure, besides food expenditure. He suggested that researchers should broaden their policy recommendations to include fiscal, monetary, trade, and exchange rates policies, and concluded with a discussion on the status of Indian agriculture.

Prof. Gupta responded to the suggestions, and the session ended with a discussion between Prof. Dev, Prof. Pingali and Mahesh Vyas, CEO of CMIE, on CPHS survey data, and the need for better government data systems.


Women play an important role in determining nutritional outcomes for themselves, as well as their households. One of the most proximal determinants of nutritional well- being is the quality of individual diets. The increasing unaffordability of healthy diets has been identified as one of the leading causes of malnutrition, globally. The COVID- 19 pandemic has worsened the ability of households and individuals to meet their nutritional requirements adequately. We present evidence in line with a worsening of women’s nutrition security, one that is marked by a disproportionately adverse impact of the pandemic on the consumption of non- staples as compared to staple foods. This is based on pre- and post- pandemic data, both, primary (from TCI’s program locations) as well as secondary (CMIE’s CPHS data). We then show that this worsening of the quality of diets has occurred even as healthy diets remained shockingly unaffordable, well before the pandemic onset. Our estimates of the cost of a healthy diet - based on global dietary recommendations from the EAT- Lancet Commission indicate that households would have to nearly double their per capita expenditures on foods, with that increase being centered around non- staples like meats, dairy and fruits.

About the CPHS Research Seminar Series

The CPHS Research Seminar Series features work based on the Consumer Pyramids Household Survey. It is a platform for researchers to receive critical and technical feedback from accomplished peers. It is also meant to engage with the larger research community who may gain from technical discussions. You can find all previously presented work on the Events Section of our website. You can also view a recording of every seminar so far at the CPHS Research Seminar Playlist on our YouTube channel.

The Consumer Pyramids Household Survey is India’s largest regular household survey and the world’s largest household panel survey. CPHS has collected data on over 232,000 households and 1.19 million individuals surveyed since 2014. The survey collects information on household demographics, individual identities, employment, health status, financial inclusion, individual and household incomes, consumption expenditures, ownership of assets and intentions to buy them, household amenities and consumer sentiments. Income and expenses data are a monthly time-series since January 2014.

Record-level data from all 22 Waves of CPHS is available through a subscription service. Data from the Jan-Apr 2021 Wave of CPHS was released to subscribers on May 1, 2021. Please visit our website to learn more about CPHS and how to gain access to the record-level data.

If you have written a paper using CPHS and would like to present in the Seminar Series, please write to Kaushik Krishnan at

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