Social media posts by Indian opposition politicians comparing India's ranking on the Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2022 to previous years' rankings under the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government, are misleading.

On October 15, 2022, the day GHI 2022 was released, Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS; formerly known as Telangana Rashtra Samithi) Working President K.T. Rama Rao, who is also Minister for Municipal Administration & Urban Development, Industries & Commerce, and Information Technology in the Telangana state government, took a dig at the Union government by directly comparing India's GHI rank of 101 in 2021 with it's 2022 rank – 107. The next day, K.C. Venugopal, Indian National Congress (Congress) General Secretary and Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament, compared India's GHI rank from 2013 with its 2022 ranking.

These comparisons, however, are incorrect, our fact check of GHI 2022's methodology shows.

Why Global Hunger Index Scores and Ranks Can't Be Compared Across All Years

GHI, a tool for measuring and tracking hunger – distress associated with a lack of sufficient calories – at global, regional and national levels, is a peer-reviewed report jointly published annually by Concern Worldwide, an Irish non-governmental organisation (NGO) and Welthungerhilfe, a German development and humanitarian aid NGO.

GHI 2022 has repeatedly highlighted that any one country's scores and ranks cannot be accurately compared across all years, due to a number of reasons, including revisions in methodology by the United Nations, other multilateral agencies and governments that compile the data for the indicators that inform GHI scores.

Changes in GHI methodology can also lead to ranking shifts. "Comparing scores between reports may create the impression that hunger has changed positively or negatively in a specific country from year to year, whereas in some cases the change may partly or fully reflect a data revision," the report states. For instance, in 2015, the GHI methodology was changed to include data on childhood stunting (low height for age) and wasting (low weight for height) and to standardise the values. This data change caused a major shift in the GHI scores, and the GHI Severity of Hunger Scale was modified to reflect this shift, the report further explains.

The inclusion of different countries in the index each year also makes ranking comparisons inappropriate. In 2022, 121 countries were included in the index but in 2021, only 116 countries featured in the index. This is because the set of countries for which sufficient data are available to calculate GHI scores varies from year to year.

The Correct Way to Draw Comparisons Using the Global Hunger Index

GHI scores can appropriately be used to compare hunger levels between countries and regions within the same year, per the report. When it comes to comparisons of any one country's scores (not ranks) across years, these can be done only against specified reference years, which are selected for the purpose of providing an assessment of a country's progress over time, while also ensuring there is no overlap in the range of years from which the data are drawn. For GHI 2022, the reference years are 2000, 2007 and 2014. Hence, in this instance, Rao and Venugopal incorrectly compared GHI ranks to non-reference years 2021 and 2013, respectively.

In contrast, Congress Rajya Sabha MP and former Union finance minister P. Chidambaram correctly compared India's hunger score (not rank) of 2022 with that of 2014.

FactChecker has contacted Rao, Venugopal and BRS and Congress spokespersons for comment and clarification. We will update the article when we receive a response.

How GHI scores are calculated, and why India's hunger levels could be worse

GHI scores are based on the values of four component indicators – undernourishment, child stunting, child wasting and child mortality. The GHI score is calculated on a 100-point scale reflecting the severity of hunger, where zero is the best score (no hunger) and 100 is the worst.

Any score falling below 9.9 is considered to be in the 'Low' GHI category, while a score greater than 50 points falls in the 'extremely alarming category'. India, ranked 107th out of 121 countries in 2022, with a score of 29.1, is in the 'serious' category. Moreover, India's score has risen by nearly one point from the most recent reference year, 2014 going from 28.2 to 29.1 in 2022, signalling a deterioration.

India ranks below its neighbours Pakistan (ranked 99th and serious, with a score of 26.1), Bangladesh (ranked 84th and moderate, with a score of 19.6), Myanmar (ranked 71st and moderate, with a score of 15.6) and Sri Lanka (ranked 64th and moderate, with a score of 13.6).

India's serious hunger situation in GHI 2022 also does not reflect its actual hunger situation in 2022, which could be worse than its score suggests because part of the data used are from before the economic disruption wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic and related lockdowns, say experts.

"We should take the report as a time to review the status of nutrition in the country. As mentioned in the report, ranks across years cannot be compared because the data is revised and the number of countries every year also varies but the sources of the data is credible because they use government data, for India, it's the NFHS data and FAO estimate which is based on official data," Dr Dipa Sinha, Assistant Professor, School of Liberal Studies at Ambedkar University, New Delhi told FactChecker.

"Based on field surveys, food security has worsened after the COVID-19 pandemic but the data used in the report points to a deterioration even before COVID-19," Sinha added.