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Report: Two Billion Suffer from 'Hidden Hunger'


Children wait in line to receive food at an orphanage run by a non-governmental organization in the southern Indian city of Chennai May 28, 2014. (REUTERS/Babu)

Children wait in line to receive food at an orphanage run by a non-governmental organization in the southern Indian city of Chennai May 28, 2014. (REUTERS/Babu)

The latest Global Hunger Index report estimates two billion people worldwide suffer from “hidden hunger.” People who suffer from hidden hunger have enough to eat, but the quality of their food is low. The report warns that food quality is just as important as quantity.

The index is published yearly by the International Food Policy Research Institute and two other groups. It records levels of hunger in 120 developing countries and in countries that are changing.

It lists the countries by the percentage of the population who do not get enough food, children younger than five years old who weigh less than they should and the death rate of children under five.

The report says ten of the 14 countries with the worst scores are located south of the Saharan Desert in Africa. That is also where the two countries with the worst scores -- Burundi and Eritrea -- are. The report says rates of hunger and death there is, in its words, “extremely alarming.”

The report says more than 60 percent of the people of Burundi and Eritrea are undernourished. And Angola, Chad, and Sierra Leone have the highest rates of children under five dying.

In Swaziland, people suffer from food insecurity and high unemployment because of lack of rain. The report says the percentage of people who are undernourished has doubled in the past ten years and the expected life of people there has fallen by ten years since 1990.

But the news was not all bad. The report said the number of children under age five who die in sub-Saharan Africa has dropped since 2000, probably because of a decrease in malaria rates and increasing income.

And several Southeast Asian and South Asian countries had much-higher scores than they had in 1990 -- including Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Bangladesh. Vietnam’s score has dropped more than 75 percent since 1990. The number of underweight children in Vietnam has dropped sharply, and it has cut in half the number of children under five who die.

Shenggen Fan is IFPRI’s Director-General. He says eating low-quality food can hurt people as much as not getting enough food.

“Hidden hunger is very different from the so-called visible hunger or undernourishment. Hidden hunger really means lack of micronutrients or vitamins in a person’s diet, which can cause long-term, chronic damage to their mental and their physical health. And this is particularly severe for children and their mothers.”

This kind of hunger can weaken the system that protects the body, called the immune system. Mr. Fan says it can also affect a person’s mind, and can even cause death.

Mr. Fan says the international community did not fight this hidden hunger for many years because it was trying to solve the bigger problem of lack of food.

“For the last several decades our focus has been on producing more food because we do have people suffering from hunger, from lack of food to eat, which is OK. But now, we have enough supply at this moment. The question is how can we provide (a) more balanced diet, good-quality food, to everybody in this world to make sure that they have very healthy, not only in terms of physical health but also mental health in their lives?”

Mr. Fan says hidden hunger is not just a health issue. It’s also an economic issue.

“Every year because of under-nutrition we lose two to three percent of global GDP. By addressing this problem, this challenge, the returns to that investment is huge. For every one dollar invested in addressing under-nutrition we will have more than $30 in return. In some of the poorest countries, the returns is even higher.”

The report says people can be overweight but still suffer from hidden hunger. It says people should eat different types of food and companies should add nutrients to some crops.

Hidden hunger keeps people from becoming “productive members of society.” It also keeps countries from developing because it keeps people in what the report called a “cycle of poor nutrition, poor health, lost productivity, persistent poverty, and reduced economic growth.”

The Global Hunger Index reports hidden hunger is happening even as levels of hunger in many developing countries decrease. But the index also says 805,000,000 people still don’t have enough to eat. Mr. Fan says countries should work to end both hunger and malnutrition. The report says “ending hunger in all its forms is possible. It must now become a reality.”

I’m Christopher Cruise.

This story was reported by VOA Correspondent Joe De Capua in Washington. Christopher Cruise wrote, narrated and produced this story for Learning English. Hai Do edited the story.

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Words from This Story

quality – n. how good or bad something is

quantity – n. an amount or number of something

chronic – adj. continuing or occurring again and again for a long time

immune system n. the system that protects the body from diseases and infections

malnutrition – n. the unhealthy condition that results from not eating enough food or not eating enough healthy food; poor nutrition

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