More than two billion people lack access to healthy food, putting them at risk of serious health problems, the United Nations has said on Monday.
About one-quarter of the world’s population now struggles to eat “safe, nutritious and sufficient food”, according to the UN’s State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2019 report.
That includes about eight percent of people in Europe and North America, according to the annual study.
“We need to look beyond hunger,” said Cindy Holleman, senior economist at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the report’s editor. “If we just focus on hunger, we’re going to be missing a lot of the growing problems we’re seeing.”
New data showed there are now more obese people in the world than hungry ones – although it also highlighted that the number of hungry people increased in 2018 for the third year running.
Hunger is on the rise in most of Africa, parts of the Middle East, and in Latin America and the Caribbean, the report said.
“Furthermore, economic shocks are contributing to prolonging and worsening the severity of food crises caused primarily by conflict and climate shocks,” it added.
‘Out of control’
The report said there were 822 million obese people in 2016, the most recent year for which figures were available, while 796.5 million were undernourished.
“Obesity is out of control,” said Jose Graziano da Silva, director-general of the FAO.
He likened the situation to the beginning of the Green Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s when high-yielding seeds, fertilisers, and irrigation helped stave off famine in hungry parts of the world.
“We were anticipating big hunger in Asia. Now we are anticipating a big crisis due to the rise of obesity. And this trend takes more time and is more complex [to resolve] than hunger.”
The findings show governments need to pay more attention to different aspects of food availability instead of focusing on producing more, said Graziano da Silva of the FAO, which compiled the report with four other UN agencies.
“Governments are very much oriented to the production side. They believe that if there is food available, people will eat. In a way, that’s not true,” he told Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“We are not looking at the distribution, the markets, the behaviour of the people, the culture of the people.”