Module 1: Introduction to Hunger

Hunger is the world’s top health concern, killing more people than do AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined.(1) The number of hungry people in the world exceeds the sum of the populations of the U.S., Canada, and the European Union.(2) A quarter of children born in developing nations are underweight.(3) Ten years after the drafting of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the world has yet to achieve the first goal of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger.

Hunger and malnutrition are words that are often used interchangeably. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), following the advice of the Committee on National Statistics (CNSTAT), defines hunger as “an individual-level physiological condition that may result from food insecurity.”(4) The World Food Programme (WFP) defines hunger as “the body's way of signaling that it is running short of food and needs to eat something. Hunger can lead to malnutrition.”(5) The WFP defines malnutrition or undernutrition as “a state in which the physical function of an individual is impaired to the point where he or she can no longer maintain natural bodily capacities.”(6)

The average person needs approximately 2,100 kilocalories (calories) per day to maintain a normal, healthy body.(7) Victims of hunger live on significantly less than 2,100 kilocalories per day for extended lengths of time. Hunger can cause adverse health effects—the calorie deficit can cause a person’s bodily functions, both mental and physical, to slow or even shut down. Among some of the problems of hunger are lack of concentration, enervation, and weakened immune systems. Problems that result from malnutrition include being underweight, stunted, or micronutrient-deficient.

Where Hunger Hits

According to recent Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) statistics, most of the world’s hungry people live in developing nations. Hunger is approximately distributed among people as follows:

That is compared to 19 million peoplein developed countries.

Within any country, three-quarters of all hungry people live in rural areas.(8) These people depend heavily on agriculture and often have no alternative source of employment or income. Women and children are typically hit hardest by hunger. The FAO estimates that 60% of the victims of hunger are women.(9) Hunger is often inherited due to inadequate nutrition before and during pregnancy, so up to 17 million children are born underweight each year.(10) An estimated 146 million children in developing countries are underweight due to acute or chronic hunger.(11) Every year, 3.5 million of these children die from acute malnutrition.(12) In developing nations, one third of all child deaths are associated with hunger.(13)

Hunger Map(14)


Go To Module 2: Causes of Hunger >>


(1) "Hunger Stats" Hunger. World Food Programme, 2012. Web. 16 May 2012.

(2) Ibid.

(3) Ibid.           

(4) "Food Security in the United States: Definitions of Hunger and Food Security." ERS/USDA Briefing Room -. USDA Economic Research Service, 7 Sept. 2011. Web. 16 May 2012.

(5) "Hunger Glossary." Hunger. World Food Programme, 2012. Web. 16 May 2012.

(6) Ibid.

(7) "What is Hunger?" Hunger. World Food Programme, 2012. Web. 16 May 2012.

(8) "Who are the hungry?" Hunger. World Food Programme, 2012. Web. 16 May 2012.

(9) Oxfam International. Halving Hunger: Still Possible? By Arantxa Guereña, Luca Chinotti, Sonia Goicoechea, Jean-Denis Crola, and Eric Hazard. Oxfam Briefing Paper, 2010. Print.

(10) "Who are the hungry?" Hunger. World Food Programme, 2012. Web. 16 May 2012.

(11) "UNICEF The State of the World's Children 2009 - Maternal and Newborn Health."UNICEF The State of the World's Children 2009 - Maternal and Newborn Health. UNICEF. Web. 16 May 2012.

(12) "What Is Acute Malnutrition." Action Against Hunger, 2012. Web. 17 May 2012.

(13) "World Food Programme Fighting Hunger Worldwide." 6 Reasons The Next Generation Needs Us To Solve Hunger. World Food Programme. Web. 17 May 2012.

(14) WFP. "Fighting Hunger Worldwide." Map. World Food Programme, 2011. Web. 29 May 2012.