By Niki Rubin, UN Foundation Summer 2017 Public Affairs Intern
We live in a world in which one in nine people are undernourished. That’s about 11% of the world’s population, or 795 million people.
This is a problem for a range of reasons. Foremost, it’s unjust. In a world of our wealth, everyone should be able to get the nutrition they need to live healthy lives. Ensuring people are well-nourished is also vital to the health and development of children – and to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals’ vision of a world without poverty and with dignity for all.
Malnourishment can compromise immune systems, delay cognitive development, stunt growth, cause pregnancy complications, and so much more. The good news is we have solutions to help people around the world get the nourishment they need to survive and thrive. And through the Sustainable Development Goals, the international community has agreed to work toward an end of malnutrition in the world by 2030.
Here are five reasons why you should care about this work:
- Malnutrition is a leading cause of death for young children. The World Food Programme (WFP) states that almost half (45%) of deaths of children under 5 are caused by malnutrition – that’s 3.1 million children per year who don’t live to celebrate their 5th birthday.
- It prevents children from learning and harms future earning potential. It’s hard to focus on school with an empty belly. According to the United Nations, 66 million primary-school aged children attend class hungry. Adults who were malnourished as children earn, on average, 20% less, according to the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN).
- The first 1,000 days is vital to children’s futures. Currently, one in four children in the world suffers stunted growth. According to UNICEF, “Poor nutrition in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life can lead to stunted growth, which is irreversible and associated with impaired cognitive ability and reduced school and work performance.” WFP notes that this translates into “significant losses in national productivity and economic growth that are equivalent to 8–11% of gross domestic product.”
- It is possible to end world hunger. The United Nations estimates that we need an additional $267 billion per year on average to end world hunger. This number may sound overwhelming, but to put it in context, consumers spend about $270 billion annually on sportswear such as sneakers and yoga pants. We produce enough food to feed the world, and have solutions such as fortified food and best practices in farming to expand access to nutrition.
- We are making progress against malnourishment. According to the Food and Agriculture of the UN (FAO), the prevalence of undernourishment in developing regions declined from 18.6% in 1990–92 to 10.9% in 2014–16.
Goal 2 of the Sustainable Development Goals is to “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.” This goal is ambitious, but achievable if we mobilize the necessary resources and political will, and make sure no one is left out.
The UN and its agencies are working to help end hunger and provide proper nourishment to all people, from promoting economic opportunities, to support small farmers, to providing emergency food aid.