The commonly held belief that breakfast is the most important meal of the day stems from an assumption that a full stomach increases productivity and lowers stress levels. This logic is anecdotally sound – after all, how often does a hungry person seem like a calmer, more rational version of themselves?
This logic must then also apply on a macro scale: a well fed nation, food secure whose nutritional needs are met, must then be more productive than a similar body facing a lack of access to reliable, nutritious and affordable foods. The exploration into the effect of meeting this basic human right has been explored multiple bodies, attempting to discern the efficiency cost of hunger from relevant variables and external influencers: poor economic policies, lack of openness to external markets, high rates of disease, efficacy of the health sector, etc.
Much research in this area has been focused upon the prevalence of food inadequacy and dietary energy supply. In a paper published in 2001 by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), growth rates from 1960 to 1980 were shown to be causing losses of 0.23 to 4.7 percentage points In global GDP growth, with lesser effects being shown in sub-Saharan African nations. Although telling, the econometric and statistical processes often fail to account for differences between the long run and the short run (ie. is the period long enough to determine a steady state and how do short term fluctuations regional food security?).
However, the general academic consensus remains that there is little doubt that a country’s nutritional status impacts it’s overall level of development. However, discrepancies are shown to exist. As global calorie counts in the developing regions of Southeast Asian and South Asian economies saw no drastic increase, their economies grew and have now passed sub-Saharan economies in GDP growth rates. Despite certain fluctuating outliers, the understanding remains that increasing nutritional status permanently increases long term growth rates, though the short run effect will be greater than the long term.
Programs that invest into nutrition have been shown to have benefits far outweighing costs. After all, a short term capital expenditure cannot be weighted equivalently to scale against the GDP growth of an entire nation. The Copenhagen Consensus, a project looking to establish global welfare through methodologies incorporating cost-benefit analyses, clearly outlined that nutritional losses were linked to decreased physical productivity, loss of future productivity through reduced participation of youth in education system and losses in resources from increased health care costs. Additionally, a vicious cycle has been shown to emerge where malnutrition and poverty are intrinsically linked and each furthers the cycle of the other.
Investments into nutrition thereby pass both the anecdotal, the statistical and the social justice test. The message is clear: to grow your GDP, eat your Wheaties.