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May 30, 2018
Brattle Group Associate Josephine Duh Wins 2018 Austin Robinson Prize

Brattle Associate Josephine Duh has been awarded The Austin Robinson Memorial Prize for a paper she co-authored on caloric intake and disease in India. The Austin Robinson prize is awarded annually for the best non-solicited published paper in The Economic Journal by an author who received his or her Ph.D. within the last five years. Dr. Duh shared the award with co-author Dean Spears of the University of Texas at Austin.

The paper, “Health and Hunger: Disease, Energy Needs, and the Indian Calorie Consumption Puzzle,” examines the reasons why calorie consumption has declined in India over the past few decades despite the country’s economic growth. The authors argue that India’s “puzzle” can, in part, be explained by the changing disease environment. A worse disease environment, which may be driven by poor sanitation among other factors, can reduce nutritional absorption because of intestinal inflammation and diarrhea. Thus, as India’s disease environment got better over time, caloric needs and thereby calorie consumption declined.

Using infant mortality rates and rates of open defecation as two different measures of the disease environment, the authors found that the disease environment accounts for at least one-fifth of the overall decline in calorie consumption between the late 1980s and mid-2000s. A rough back-of-the-envelope calculation indicates that “eliminating open defecation would save about four dollars per person per year in food consumption,” which - in a country of over one billion people – amounts to a significant economic cost.

A video about the authors' research is available on YouTube, and was also featured on the Vox Dev website in April 2019.