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Silent Struggle: The Global Battle Against Hunger and Malnutrition

In a world blessed with abundance, an alarming number of people are still fighting against the haunting satan of hunger, according to the 2023 edition of the ‘Joint Malnutrition Estimates (JME) released by Unicef, WHO, and the World Bank.


Imagine the agony of not having enough food to lead a healthy and active life - a reality faced by millions every day. Mothers and children, among the most vulnerable, bear the brunt of this crisis, facing the risk of poor health outcomes and even death. 


The UN has set a global target as part of the Sustainable Development Goals to “end hunger by 2030“, but the battle is far from won, as staggering data reveals that nearly one in ten individuals continue to endure the ache of insufficient food on their plates. 


The share of undernourished people is the leading indicator for food security and nutrition used by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.


Undernourishment in any given region is measured by the share of the population with a daily food intake that is insufficient to provide the average amount of dietary energy required to maintain a normal, active, and healthy life. Specifically, it is the share of people who do not get enough calories to live a healthy life.


Data shows the highest share of the undernourished population in Somalia, which is  53.1% of the people. The Rates of hunger are highest in Sub-Saharan Africa. Additionally, South Asia has much high rates than the Americas and East Asia. Rates in North America and Europe are below 2.5%.


The world has made significant progress against hunger, but this has slowed. Rates of undernourishment fell quickly during the 20th and early 21st centuries. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO) estimated that one in three people in ‘developing countries’ suffered from hunger in 1970. Rates then plummeted, reaching 12% in 2015.


Hunger and malnutrition can present themselves in several ways. Poor health outcomes for mothers and children are essential ones. The World Health Organization (WHO) and UNFAO measure two main critical signs of malnutrition in children.


The first factor is stunting. This is when a child is too short for their age. It indicates that a lack of food has hindered their growth and development. In a population, the prevalence of stunting is defined as the share of children under five years old that fall two standard deviations below the expected height for their age. Childhood stunting is regarded as a more vital indicator of chronic malnutrition.


Data shows that countries like India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan have more stunted children than China and the USA. As of 2021, Angola tops the list with a share of 62%. India had a stunting rate of 31.7% in 2021, compared to 41.6 % in 2012, a decade ago. Additionally, 22.3% of children under age five worldwide were affected by stunting in 2021. Nearly all children affected lived in Asia (52% of the global share) and Africa (43% of the worldwide share).


The second one is wasting. It is when a child’s weight is too low for their height. Wasting is a symptom that a youngster has endured brief bouts of malnutrition, resulting in severe muscle and fat tissue wasting. It means their weight is deficient for their height. The prevalence of wasting in a population is measured as the share of children younger than five years old that are defined as ‘wasted.’ Data shows that Southern Asia has the highest wasting prevalence of any sub-region globally. It includes countries such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and others. 


India, the largest country in southern Asia, has an alarming 18.7% of children suffering from wasting. It accounts for half of all children with wasting in the world. In 2022, an estimated 45 million children under five (6.8%) were affected by wasting globally, of which 13.6 million (2.1%) suffered from severe wasting. Over three-quarters of all children with severe wasting live in Asia, and another 22% live in Africa.


While the world has significantly reduced global hunger levels, the journey is far from over. The Sustainable Development Goal to end hunger by 2030 beckons humanity to rise above adversity and forge ahead with determination. We can only assure that no one goes to bed hungry and that every stomach is full of food and hope for a better future if we work together.


Source: Levels and trends in child malnutrition-UNICEF / WHO / World Bank Group Joint Child Malnutrition Estimates-Key findings of the 2023 edition, Undernourished and Overlooked – UNICEF, Our World In Data


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Tags: WHO World Bank UNICEF Food Hunger Global Hunger Levels Wasting Malnutrition Stunting Weakness Hunger Index



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