Accounting for the Evolution of Sedentarism in Food Security Assessment

Jacob Michels, John C. Beghin
November 2023  [23-WP 654]

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Suggested citation:

Michels, M. and J.C. Beghin. 2023. "Accounting for the Evolution of Sedentarism in Food Security Assessment." Working paper 23-WP 654. Center for Agricultural and Rural Development, Iowa State University.


Widely used estimates of food-insecure populations are likely to be biased upwards, lacking adjustment for global increases in sedentary behavior in recent decades. We first construct a household model to account for sedentary choices during leisure and work time decisions. The model rationalizes increasing sedentary behavior from the household by accounting for increasing returns to cognitive human capital vs physical capital, alongside increased productivity of more sedentary activities both at work and at home. The household model then informs an empirical model that makes use of our unique international pseudo-panel data on sitting time, which serves as a proxy for sedentarism. We econometrically estimate a transfer function linking sedentarism to widely available covariates, which then are used to make out-of-sample predictions and can be applied to a large set of countries. The estimated sedentary time can be used to adjust the physical activity level reflected in the minimum dietary energy requirement used to determine a cutoff for food insecurity.