From acute hunger to malnutrition around the world: Here’s what the latest SOFI report says

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The latest edition of the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World estimated that almost 690 million people went hungry in 2019 – up by 10 million from 2018, and by nearly 60 million in 5 years.

As progress in fighting hunger stalls, the COVID-19 pandemic is intensifying the vulnerabilities and inadequacies of global food systems.

Here are the key highlights:

• Current estimates are that nearly 690 million people are hungry, or 8.9 per cent of the world population – up by 10 million people in one year and by nearly 60 million in five years.

• The number of people affected by severe food insecurity, which is another measure that approximates hunger, shows a similar upward trend. In 2019, close to 750 million – or nearly one in ten people in the world – were exposed to severe levels of food insecurity.

• Considering the total affected by moderate or severe food insecurity, an estimated 2 billion people in the world did not have regular access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food in 2019.

• Healthy diets are unaffordable to many people, especially the poor, in every region of the world. The most conservative estimate shows they are unaffordable for more than 3 billion people in the world.

• Asia remains home to the greatest number of undernourished (381 million). Africa is second (250 million), followed by Latin America and the Caribbean (48 million).

• The world is not on track to achieve Zero Hunger by 2030. If recent trends continue, the number of people affected by hunger would surpass 840 million by 2030.

• A preliminary assessment suggests that the COVID-19 pandemic may add between 83 and 132 million people to the total number of undernourished in the world in 2020 depending on the economic growth scenario.

• All diets have hidden costs, which must be understood to identify trade-offs and synergies in relation to other SDGs. Two hidden costs that are most critical relate to the health (SDG 3) and climate-related
(SDG 13) consequences of our dietary choices and the food systems that support these.

• Globally, the burden of malnutrition in all its forms remains a challenge. According to current estimates, in 2019, 21.3 per cent (144.0 million) of children under 5 years of age were stunted, 6.9 per cent (47.0 million) wasted and 5.6 per cent (38.3 million) overweight.

• The world is making progress but is not on track to achieve the 2025 and 2030 targets for child stunting and low birth weight, and for exclusive breastfeeding, is on track only for the 2025 target.

• The nutritional status of the most vulnerable population groups is likely to deteriorate further due to the health and socio-economic impacts of COVID-19.

• Shifting to healthy diets can contribute to reducing health and climate-change costs by 2030, because the hidden costs of these healthy diets are lower compared to those of current consumption patterns.

• The FAO report stated that food insecurity can worsen diet quality and consequently increase the risk of various forms of
malnutrition, potentially leading to undernutrition as well as overweight and obesity.

• To increase the affordability of healthy diets, the cost of nutritious foods must come down, according to the report.

• The cost drivers of these diets are seen throughout the food supply chain, within the food environment and in the political economy that shapes trade, public expenditure and investment policies. Tackling these cost drivers need large transformations in food systems with no one-size-fits-all solution and different trade-offs and synergies for countries.

• Countries will need a rebalancing of agricultural policies and incentives towards more nutrition-sensitive investment and policy actions all along the food supply chain to reduce food losses and enhance efficiencies at all stages.

• Nutrition-sensitive social protection policies will also be central for them to increase the purchasing power and affordability of healthy diets of the most vulnerable populations. Policies that more generally foster behavioural change towards healthy diets will also be needed.

• Malnutrition affects all age groups.
In 2019, among under-5-year-olds:
– 191 million were stunted or wasted (too short or too thin)
– 38 million were overweight