Unlike the images of an underweight child that we might see in a news report, the reality of global malnutrition is more complex than we might think. Food insecurity, with its symptom of hunger, is defined as not having access to enough food to live a healthy life. More broadly, malnutrition can also mean not having the right nutrition, including being overweight.

Who is affected?

The majority of the world’s hungry (three quarters) are rural dwellers and about half of those are farmers. More than half of the hungry live in Asia and the Pacific, while more than a quarter are in Sub-Saharan Africa, and still more in Latin America and the Middle East. In the USA, too, 49 million people struggle with food insecurity, including more than 16.7 million children. At the same time, the global number of overweight and obese has also hit one billion people and some countries are experiencing a “nutrition transition” where people are moving from hunger to obesity (with the related health problems) in just one generation.

"Hidden hunger and nutrient deficiencies can affect a child’s ability to learn and reduce a person’s ability to recover from disease."

Countries affected by chronic hunger have lower GDPs and hungry people are less able to be productive and healthy. Hidden hunger and nutrient deficiencies can affect a child’s ability to learn and reduce a person’s ability to recover from disease. As we’ve seen food prices go up in the last few years and months, hunger has fueled instability and, conversely, conflict has led to hunger.

President Obama addressed the global hunger issue in his Inaugural Address, “To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish… to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds.” The UN Millennium Development Goals are pushing to cut hunger in half by 2015 (a goal we will likely not reach). The First Lady has also taken up the platform of better nutrition by addressing the obesity epidemic. Global food security and nutrition are clearly important to our leaders and this could be just the time to coalesce a movement toward a better global food system.

There is a new opportunity to unite the energy of the international anti-hunger community with that of the domestic antihunger and anti-obesity stakeholders. We have seen, especially in the last 30 years, the numbers of the hungry and overweight grow so that there are one billion suffering with each nutrition problem in the world today. But we can make a difference at home and abroad to help create a healthier global food system.

The mission

The answers to addressing hunger and obesity domestically and internationally are strikingly similar: better agricultural infrastructure to get good food to people everywhere, local purchasing of food aid, healthy school meals for all children, and a food safety net to ensure that the hungriest people don’t fall through the cracks.

Tomorrow, there will still be hungry people around the world, but today, we can eat and feed our families mindfully to spurn obesity, work at the local level to ensure access to a sustainable food system in our own communities, and invest in programs that work to end hunger over the long-term as well as supporting programs that feed our most vulnerable neighbors, here and abroad, today. With a renewed understanding of the issues of food insecurity and malnutrition as global issues that affect both the poorest people of the world along with children in our own communities, we can work together to support efforts that create sustainable food systems for all.