Rural scene in Malawi: hunger is still widespread, particularly in Africa.
Photo: © Stefan Koppmair

Ending hunger in all its forms

Scientists at Göttingen University have proposed a methodology which takes into account the different forms of hunger and the resulting effects on health.

To estimate progress in the worldwide struggle against hunger, it is first necessary to measure the scale of hunger. Besides the problem of inadequate supply of calories, there is also the “hidden” hunger – the shortage of micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals. Scientists at Göttingen University have now proposed a methodology which takes into account the different forms of hunger and the resulting effects on health. Their results are published in the professional journal Global Food Security.

To date, the scale of hunger has generally been measured by the number of people suffering from shortage of calories or micronutrients. However, this number provides little information, because different forms of hunger can cause very different problems to health. The researchers at the Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Development have now shown how the various forms of hunger can be better measured and compared with the help of health data and calculation of the so-called DALY index. Instead of simply counting the people affected, the DALY index takes into account the consequences for health of hunger and malnutrition, e.g. increased child mortality, physical and mental development problems and increased incidence of infectious diseases.

Shortage of micronutrients still high

Based on data from some 190 countries, the researchers calculate the DALY index for different times. The results show that the consequences for health of hunger have been significantly reduced in the last few decades. “Since 1990 the scale of the hunger problem has more than halved,” according to co-author Dr Theda Gödecke. Further statistical analyses show that this is primarily due to economic growth in the countries concerned, as well as increases in food production, improved education (particularly for girls and women) and improved health services.

“However, progress in combating shortage of calories was significantly greater than progress in combating shortage of micronutrients,” Gödecke notes. “General economic and social development is enormously important, but not sufficient by itself to end hunger in the foreseeable future,” emphasises Prof. Matin Qaim, co-author of the study. “The struggle against hidden hunger in particular will require more focused measures.”

(Göttingen University/wi)

More information:

Reference: Theda Gödecke, Alexander J. Stein, Matin Qaim. The global burden of chronic and hidden hunger: Trends and determinants. Global Food Security 2018.