2 May 2017

The coexistence of hamburgers and saté in Indonesia

Isabel writes:*

Indonesia is undergoing a ‘nutrition transition’ similar to that of many other developing countries (Hanandita and Tampubulon, 2015). This nutrition transition is characterized by a shift from the ‘end of famine’ nutrition stage into the ‘overeating’ stage in which there is an abundance of high-calorie foods. What makes Indonesia an interesting case is that it is experiencing many different versions of this nutrition transition. With over seventeen thousand islands Indonesia is geographically and culturally highly diverse. Because of this diversity, islands in Indonesia are developing at different rates. This causes for the Double Burden of Malnutrition (DBM) to be present in Indonesia, i.e., simultaneous under- and over-nutrition.

The estimated national prevalence of underweight is 14.4% while overweight is projected at 17.9%. This means that a third of the Indonesian population is malnourished, and exemplifies the DBM problem Indonesia faces. Interestingly, the risk of under- and over-nutrition to occur is spatially clustered. As Figure 1 shows, under-nutrition is observed in South Sumatra, Central and South Kalimantan and the North-Coast of Java. Over-nutrition is especially detected in North Sumatra, West and East Java and Sulawesi. This is an important finding as common factors between these areas tell us more about which factors drive the DBM.

Figure 1: under- and over-nutrition
Research has shown that those districts that have a higher expenditure per capita have greater obesity rates than the ones with lower expenditures. Additionally, obesity is more prevalent in urban areas, and significantly higher among women than men. This is in line with the spatial correlation discussed earlier; those areas in which the risk of overweight was substantially higher are generally more urbanized and have higher incomes. In these areas two important developments are emerging alongside each other; urbanization has created urban lifestyles for these people which makes them reliant on less fresh foods, as well as diet Westernization occurs in these areas due to higher incomes. This causes for an increase in the consumption of more fatty, high in sugar foods.

In the end, what this tells us is that the DBM is ultimately related to inequalities among the population of Indonesia. However, this makes tackling the DBM difficult as simply attempting to reduce poverty would not necessarily improve the nutrition situation as more people would be at risk for obesity. The problem of the DBM is thus as complex as defining its geographical borders.

Bottom LineThe Double Burden of Malnutrition exemplifies that economic growth does not equal development in Indonesia. Because of the geographical and cultural diversity of Indonesia differences among development levels exist which outs itself in both undernutrition and over nutrition. Thus, despite recent economic growth, inequalities persist and nutritionally the population is not better off.

* Please comment on these posts by students in my growth & development economics course. It really helps if you highlight unclear analysis, alternative perspectives, better data, etc.