Urbanization and food consumption in India

Sci Rep. 2020 Oct 14;10(1):17241. doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-73313-8.


The shift towards urban living is changing food demand. Past studies on India show significant urban-rural differences in food consumption. However, a scientific understanding of the underlying relationships between urbanization and food consumption is limited. This study provides the first detailed analysis of how urbanization influences both quantity and diversity of food consumption in India by harnessing the strength of multiple datasets, including consumer expenditure surveys, satellite imagery, and census data. Our statistical analysis shows three main findings. First, in contrast to existing studies, we find that much of the variation in food consumption quantity is due to income and not urbanization. After controlling for income and state-level differences, our results show that average consumption is higher in urban than rural areas for fewer than 10% of all commodities. That is, there is nearly no difference in average consumption between urban and rural residents. Second, we find the influence of urbanization as a population share on food consumption diversity to be statistically insignificant (p-value > 0.1). Instead, the results show that infrastructure, market access, percentage working women in urban areas, and norms and institutions have a statistically significant influence. Third, all covariates of food consumption diversity we tested were found to be associated with urbanization. This suggests that urbanization influences on food consumption are both indirect and multidimensional. These results show that increases in the urban population size alone do not explain changes in food consumption in India. If we are to understand how food consumption may change in the future due to urbanization, the study points to the need for a more complex and multidimensional understanding of the urbanization process that goes beyond demographic shifts.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Demography
  • Eating*
  • Humans
  • Income
  • India
  • Rural Population / statistics & numerical data
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Urban Population / statistics & numerical data
  • Urbanization*