What is hunger?
According to the UN's Hunger Report, hunger is the term used to define periods when populations are experiencing severe food insecurity—meaning that they go for entire days without eating due to lack of money, lack of access to food, or other resources. 1
What is the definition of hunger?
Here are some widely accepted definitions of key terms:
- Hunger is the distress associated with lack of food. The threshold for food deprivation, or undernourishment, is fewer than 1,800 calories per day.
- Undernutrition goes beyond calories to signify deficiencies in energy, protein, and/or essential vitamins and minerals.
- Malnutrition refers more broadly to both undernutrition and overnutrition (problems with unbalanced diets). 2
- Food security relates to food availability, access, and utilization. When a person always has adequate availability and access to enough safe and nutritious food to maintain an active and healthy life, they are considered food secure. 3
Key facts about global hunger today
Around the world, more than enough food is produced to feed the global population—but as many as 811 million people still go hungry. After steadily declining for a decade, world hunger is on the rise, affecting 9.9 percent of people globally. From 2019 to 2020, the number of undernourished people grew by as many as 161 million, a crisis driven largely by conflict, climate change, and the COVID-19 pandemic.5
Before this increase in recent years, the world had been making significant progress in reducing hunger. In fact, in 2000, world leaders joined the United Nations and civil society in committing to meet eight Millennium Development Goals by 2015: the first of which was “to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.”
In 2015, the UN published a report charting the world’s progress against achieving that goal.
- The proportion of undernourished people in the world has declined from 15 percent in 2000-2004 to 8.9 percent in 2019.
- About 690 million people globally are undernourished.
- The rate of stunting (children too short for their age as a result of chronic malnutrition) fell from 33 percent of children under age five in 2000 to 21.3 percent in 2019.6
In 2015, world leaders charted a new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The second of these is to “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture” by 2030.
What causes hunger?
Hunger is strongly interconnected with poverty, and it involves interactions among an array of social, political, demographic, and societal factors. People living in poverty frequently face household food insecurity, use inappropriate care practices, and live in unsafe environments that have low access to quality water, sanitation, and hygiene, and inadequate access or availability to health services and education—all of which contribute to hunger.7
Conflict is also a key driver of severe food crises, including famine—a fact officially recognized by the UN Security Council in May 20184 . Hunger and undernutrition are much worse when conflicts are prolonged and institutions are weak. The number of conflicts is on the rise, some worsened by climate-related shocks. People and organizations working to combat hunger must take conflict-sensitive approaches, much more so than in the past.8
Weather-related events, in part associated with climate change, have also impacted food availability in many countries and thus contributed to the rise of food insecurity. Economic downturns in countries dependent on oil and other primary-commodity export revenues has also affected food availability and decreased people’s ability to access food.9
Hunger Fast Facts
- There is more than enough food produced in the world to feed everyone on the planet.
- As many as 811 million people worldwide go to bed hungry each night.
- Small farmers, herders, and fishermen produce about 70 percent of the global food supply, yet they are especially vulnerable to food insecurity – poverty and hunger are most acute among rural populations.
- Conflict is a cause and consequence of hunger. In 2020, conflict was the primary driver of hunger for 99.1 million people in 23 countries
- An estimated 14 million children under the age of five worldwide suffer from severe acute malnutrition, also known as severe wasting, yet only 25 percent of acutely malnourished children have access to lifesaving treatment.
The world needs a better way to deal with hunger. We're creating it. For everyone. For good.
Action Against Hunger is the only international non-government organization solely focused on reducing and eliminating hunger and undernutrition. We treat more children suffering from severe acute malnutrition than any other NGO. We also work to prevent hunger, targeting its root causes and enabling communities to build long-term resiliency.
We’ve been hard at work on the front lines fighting hunger since 1979, and that work—combined with our research, innovations, and advocacy—have helped reduce the number of undernourished people worldwide by 50 percent.
Action Against Hunger works not only to treat acutely malnourished children through a community-based approach, but also to improve child survival and prevent undernutrition by addressing its underlying causes. Our technical expertise is internationally renowned, due to our 40 years of operational experience in countries with the highest burdens of hunger and to our contributions to developing revolutionary nutrition products and field testing treatment protocols that have become international best practice.
We aim to increase the number of children worldwide who are screened and treated for undernutrition and to build the capacity of local health systems to treat undernutrition. We are committed to research, partnerships, and learning that will allow us to continually improve policy and practice to help achieve the global goal of ending undernutrition in all its forms by 2030.
Our programs reached more than 25 million people in nearly 50 countries in 2020.
1 State of Food Insecurity and Nutrition in the World 2020 online summary, http://www.fao.org/state-of-food-security-nutrition/en/
2 State of Food Insecurity and Nutrition in the World 2020 online summary, http://www.fao.org/state-of-food-security-nutrition/en/
3 Food security definition from the UN’s World Food Program and hunger, undernutrition, and malnutrition from the International Food Policy Research Institute’s Global Hunger Index.
4 Sustainable Development Goal 2, Zero Hunger: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg2
5 Action Against Hunger International Nutrition Security Policy, page 8
6 State of Food Insecurity and Nutrition in the World 2020
7 State of Food Insecurity and Nutrition in the World 2020
8 Action Against Hunger Value Proposition
9 Action Against Hunger International Nutrition Security Policy, page 5; and Sustainable Development Goal 2, Zero Hunger: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg2