Maithripala Sirisena

President wrong on undernourishment figures


Around 16 or 17 percent of Sri Lankans are undernourished.

Lankadeepa | October 18, 2018



Fact Check

On 18 October, Lankadeepa reported President Sirisena making the above statement.

Is the President’s claim accurate?

In order to verify his statement, we looked at several international statistics on undernourishment.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) defines undernourishment as “the proportion of the population whose dietary energy consumption is less than a pre-determined threshold,” and measures it as a three-year moving average.

For data extracted from the FAO website, please see Exhibit 1.

As seen in Exhibit 1, the average percentage of undernourished people in Sri Lanka during the 2015 – 2017 time period is 10.9 percent, which is lower than what the president had stated. The undernourishment figure has not been as high as 16-17 percent since 2008.

Therefore, we classify the president’s statement as FALSE.

What else should we know about undernourishment?

There are some other conventions for the measuring of undernourishment, focusing particularly on undernourishment in children under 5 years old.

UNICEF refers to the following aspects in its measure of undernourishment in children:

– being underweight for one’s age;
– being too short for one’s age (stunting);
– being dangerously thin for one’s height (wasting); and
– deficiency in vitamins and minerals (micronutrient malnutrition).

For children under five, the Department of Census and Statistics indicates that in Sri Lanka 21 percent are underweight, 15 percent are wasted, and 17 percent are stunted.

The Global Hunger Index measures hunger through a weighted calculation of multiple factors, and ranks countries using those factors.

The factors taken into consideration are:

– undernourishment (as defined by the FAO – given above);
– under five mortality which acts as an indicator of micronutrient
malnutrition (0.9 percent in Sri Lanka); and
– stunting and wasting in children under five (given above).

According to this measure, in 2018 Sri Lanka was ranked 67th of 119 qualifying countries.

Exhibit 1: Percentage of undernourished population in Sri Lanka (three-year moving average, 1999-2007)