After decades of steady decline, the trend in world hunger – as measured by the prevalence of undernourishment – reverted in 2015, remaining virtually unchanged in the past three years at a level slightly below 11 percent. Meanwhile, the number of people who suffer from hunger has slowly increased. As a result, more than 820 million people in the world were still hungry in 2018, underscoring the immense challenge of achieving the Zero Hunger target by 2030.
Hunger is on the rise in almost all African subregions, making Africa the region with the highest prevalence of undernourishment, at almost 20 percent. Hunger is also slowly rising in Latin America and the Caribbean, although its prevalence is still below 7 percent. In Asia, Western Asia shows a continuous increase since 2010, with more than 12 percent of its population undernourished today.
This year’s report introduces a second indicator for monitoring SDG Target 2.1: the Prevalence of Moderate or Severe Food Insecurity based on the Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES). While severe food insecurity is associated with the concept of hunger, people experiencing moderate food insecurity face uncertainties about their ability to obtain food, and have been forced to compromise on the quality and/or quantity of the food they consume.
Considering all people in the world affected by moderate levels of food insecurity together with those who suffer from hunger, it is estimated that over 2 billion people do not have regular access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food, including 8 percent of the population in Northern America and Europe.
One in seven newborns, or 20.5 million babies globally, suffered from low birthweight in 2015; no progress has been made in reducing low birthweight since 2012. The number of children under five years in the world affected by stunting, by contrast, has decreased by 10 percent in the past six years. However, with 149 million children still stunted, the pace of progress is too slow to meet the 2030 target of halving the number of stunted children.
Overweight and obesity continue to increase in all regions, particularly among school-age children and adults. In 2018, an estimated 40 million children under five were overweight. In 2016, 131 million children 5–9 years old, 207 million adolescents and 2 billion adults were overweight. About a third of overweight adolescents and adults, and 44 percent of overweight children aged 5–9 were obese. The economic costs of malnutrition are staggering.
Analysis of household and individual level data from selected countries across all regions shows that food insecurity plays an important role as a determinant of many different forms of malnutrition. In upper-middle- and high-income countries in particular, living in a food-insecure household is a predictor of obesity in school-age children, adolescents, and adults.
Previous editions of this report show how conflict and climate variability and extremes are exacerbating the above trends. This year the report shows that the uneven pace of economic recovery and continuing poor economic performance in many countries after the 2008–2009 global economic downturn are also undermining efforts to end hunger and malnutrition. Episodes of financial stress, elevated trade tensions and tightening financial conditions are contributing to uncertain global economic prospects.
Hunger has increased in many countries where the economy has slowed down or contracted, mostly in middle-income countries. Furthermore, economic shocks are contributing to prolonging and worsening the severity of food crises caused primarily by conflict and climate shocks.
Out of 65 countries where recent adverse impacts of economic slowdowns and downturns on food security and nutrition have been strongest, 52 countries rely heavily on primary commodity exports and/or imports.
Economic slowdowns or downturns disproportionally undermine food security and nutrition where inequalities are greater. Income inequality increases the likelihood of severe food insecurity, and this effect is 20 percent higher for low-income countries compared with middle-income countries. Income and wealth inequalities are also closely associated with undernutrition, while more complex inequality patterns are associated with obesity.
To safeguard food security and nutrition, it is critical to already have in place economic and social policies to counteract the effects of adverse economic cycles when they arrive, while avoiding cuts in essential services, such as health care and education, at all costs. In the longer term, however, this will only be possible through fostering pro-poor and inclusive structural transformation, particularly in countries that rely heavily on trade in primary commodities.
To ensure that structural transformation is pro-poor and inclusive requires integrating food security and nutrition concerns into poverty reduction efforts, while ensuring that reducing gender inequalities and social exclusion of population groups is either the means to, or outcome of, improved food security and nutrition.