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HCES Data: A shift in Indian households’ food consumption patterns

GS Paper 3

 Syllabus: Indian Economy


Source: IE

 Context: The recently released Household Consumer Expenditure Survey (HCES) data for 2022-23 highlights a shift in Indian households’ food consumption patterns.

What does the HCES data show about Food Trends?

Over the years, there has been a gradual decline in the share of expenditure on food (to less than 50%) and an increase in spending on non-food items for both urban and rural households. This decline in food spending reflects an increase in incomes, allowing for more expenditures on other necessities like medical expenses, clothing, education, conveyance, durables, fuel, and entertainment.


The recent survey highlights a reduction in the share of cereals and pulses within overall food consumption expenditure in both rural and urban households. Among non-food items, spending on conveyance now holds the highest share. Previously, fuel and light were the categories with the highest consumption spending among non-food items until the 2022-23 survey


Significance of the shift in Indian households’ food consumption patterns:

  1. Economic Development Indicator: The shift in Indian households’ food consumption patterns reflects economic development, as it suggests an increase in incomes and the ability to spend more on non-food items.
  2. Improved Standard of Living: The decline in the share of expenditure on food indicates an improved standard of living for households, allowing them to allocate more resources to other essential and discretionary expenses.
  3. Dietary Diversity: The reduction in the share of cereals and pulses suggests a diversification of diets, potentially leading to improved nutrition outcomes by incorporating a wider range of food groups.
  4. Changing Lifestyle Preferences: The increased spending on non-food items, such as conveyance, reflects changing lifestyle preferences and priorities among Indian households, possibly influenced by urbanization and modernization.
  5. Economic Opportunities: The shift in consumption patterns may signify increased economic opportunities, particularly in sectors beyond agriculture, leading to greater consumption of goods and services beyond basic food necessities.
  6. Infrastructure Development: Higher spending on non-food items like conveyance may indicate improved infrastructure development, such as better transportation networks, contributing to enhanced accessibility and mobility for households.


Limitations of MPCE Data:

  1. Lack of Intra-Household Allocation Insight: MPCE data only reveals the overall consumption pattern of households, failing to provide insights into how food and nutrients are allocated among different demographic groups within the household, such as women and adolescent girls.
  2. Incomplete Assessment of Salt and Sugar Intake: MPCE data does not accurately reflect the actual intake of salt and sugar, as it cannot estimate the quantities consumed through processed foods and beverages. This limitation is critical given the rising prevalence of obesity, diabetes, and hypertension in India.


Way Forward:

  1. Awareness: Implement front-of-pack food labelling with a traffic light system to indicate high salt, fat, or sugar content in processed foods and Promote nutrition literacy to educate consumers about healthy eating practices and lifestyle modifications.
  2. Imposition of Health Tax: Implement a 20% to 30% health tax, in addition to GST, on high-fat, sugar, and salt (HFSS) foods to deter consumption.
  3. Expansion of Low-Cost Eateries: Increase the number of low-cost eateries operated by the government, offering affordable nutritious meals and healthy alternatives like buttermilk.
  4. Nutritious Provision in Anganwadi: Enhance the allocation of vegetables in government Anganwadi and school noon meal schemes to encourage healthy eating habits and improve nutrition.
  5. Diversification of PDS Basket: Expand the Public Distribution System (PDS) basket to include a wider variety of foods, ensuring nutritional security for all.


About Household Consumption Expenditure Survey (HCES):

It is conducted every 5 years by the National Statistical Office (NSO) and gathers data on household consumption of goods and services. This data is essential for deriving macroeconomic indicators like Gross Domestic Product (GDP), poverty rates, and Consumer Price Inflation (CPI). The survey generates insights into


  1. Household spending on both goods and services
  2. Aids in calculating Monthly Per Capita Consumer Expenditure (MPCE)
  3. Analyzes the distribution of households and individuals across MPCE categories.

Note: NITI Aayog noted that the latest survey showed a reduction in poverty to 5%.


Prelims Links:

As per the NSSO 70th Round “Situation Assessment Survey of Agricultural Households”, consider the following statements: (UPSC 2018)

  1. Rajasthan has the highest percentage share of agricultural households among its rural households.
  2. Out of the total agricultural households in the country, a little over 60 per cent belong to OBCs.
  3. In Kerala, a little over 60 per cent of agricultural households reported to have received maximum income from sources other than agricultural activities.


Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a) 2 and 3 only
(b) 2 only
(c) 1 and 3 only
(d) 1, 2 and 3


Ans: C


In a given year in India, official poverty lines are higher in some States than in others because (UPSC 2019)

(a) poverty rates vary from State to State
(b) price levels vary from State to State
(c) Gross State Product varies from State to State
(d) quality of public distribution varies from State to State


Ans: B