Enough Is Known to Call for Urgent Action against Hunger

Although we may not know the numbers of food insecure and malnourished with a high degree of accuracy, it appears safe to characterize the current state of food and nutrition insecurity as follows:

  • Many developing countries are currently experiencing a nutrition transition. Lifestyles are becoming more urban and sedentary, with foods and drinks being more energy-dense and diets containing more processed foods, sugars, fats and animal products (Pinstrup-Andersen, 2010). The result is a triple burden of malnutrition: one part of the population is still undernourished; many also suffer from deficits of specific nutrients, in particular micronutrients; and others are overweight.
  • Close to a billion people are chronically undernourished. While subject to possible estimation errors, the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) indicator of 850 million undernourished persons in 2005/2007 seems to be a realistic order of magnitude. First, the estimate is still lower than the number of absolutely poor (people living on less than $1.25 per day), which the World Bank estimated at 1.4 billion in 2005 (Ravallion, 2011). Secondly, FAO’s estimates are compiled using rather low rates of intra-national inequality of food availability. Many household consumption surveys show significantly higher coefficients of variation.
  • More than 2 billion people are suffering from various forms of micronutrient deficiency. This estimate is again likely to be conservative as many people are deficient in more than one nutrient.
  • Almost 30 percent of children under five in developing countries are underweight. Underweight is a summary indicator combining acute and persistent causes of child malnutrition. The prevalence is high but has declined during the last decade, in particular in Asia and the Pacific (UNICEF). Malnutrition is directly or indirectly associated with almost half of the 9 million child deaths per year worldwide, with the highest rates in Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • According to WHO, 1.5 billion adults are overweight. Nearly 43 million children under five were overweight in 2010 (WHO, 2011). 65 percent of the world’s population live in countries where overweight and obesity kills more people than underweight (Uauy, 2011). These numbers underscore the fact that action is needed to fight undernourishment as well as overnourishment.
  • Unless decisive action is taken, the number of hungry may continue to increase with rising food prices and market volatility. Agricultural supply growth is not enough to bring hunger down (FAO, 2009). What matters is that the modalities of supply growth benefit the poor (“agriculture for development”) (World Bank, 2007).

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement