Chronic Hunger Falling, But One in Nine People Still Affected

Gaelle Gourmelon | Dec 02, 2014


Although the proportion of people experiencing chronic hunger is decreasing globally, one in nine individuals still does not get enough to eat.1 The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 805 million people were living with undernourishment (chronic hunger) in 2012–14, down more than 100 million over the last decade and 209 million lower than in 1990–92.(See Figure 1.) The vast majority of undernourished people live in developing countries, where an estimated 791 million people—or one in eight—were chronically hungry in 2012–14.3

Chronic Hunger Figure 1

Undernourishment is defined as an inability to take in enough calories over at least one year to meet dietary energy requirements.4 It can lead to undernutrition, a broader term that describes a condition caused by a deficient or imbalanced diet or by poor absorption and biological use of nutrients within the body.5 Undernutrition can in turn lead to impaired physical functions and has high social and economic impacts, with the combined cost of undernutrition and micronutrient deficiencies equivalent to $1.4–2.1 trillion per year, or 2–3 percent of gross world product.6

Women and children are particularly vulnerable to nutritional deficiencies due to biological and social inequities.7Women's low educational levels, unequal social status, and limited decisionmaking power can influence both their own nutritional status and that of their children. An undernourished mother is more likely to give birth to a low birth weight baby, causing an intergenerational cycle of poverty and undernutrition. Undernourished children are at higher risk of death from infectious diseases (like diarrhea and pneumonia) and can experience devastating physical, social, and economic consequences into adulthood.8 Globally, undernutrition contributes to more than one third of child deaths.9

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