UN: World hunger worsening as coronavirus weighs and obesity rises

ROME (Agencies): Tens of millions have joined the ranks of the chronically undernourished over the past five years, a yearly United Nations study showed.

According to the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World published on Monday, almost 690 million people went hungry in 2019 worldwide, up by 10 million from 2018 and by nearly 60 million in the past five years.

The study forecasts that the coronavirus pandemic will further worsen the situation across the planet, as it could tip over 130 million more people into chronic hunger by the end of 2020.

The heads of the five United Nations agencies who compiled the report noted that “five years after the world committed to end hunger, food insecurity and all forms of malnutrition, we are still off track to achieve this objective by 2030.”

According to the report, Asia remains home to the greatest number of undernourished, with 381 million people, followed by Africa with 250 million.

The global prevalence of undernourishment – or overall percentage of hungry people – has changed little at 8.9%, but the absolute numbers have been rising since 2014, the study showed.

“This means that, over the last five years, hunger has grown in step with the global population,” it said.

Experts warned that while progress in fighting hunger stalled the COVID-19 pandemic “is intensifying the vulnerabilities and inadequacies of global food systems.”

Noting it is too early to assess the full impact of the lockdown measures adopted across the world, the report estimates that at least another 83 million people — and possibly as many as 132 million — may go hungry in 2020 due to the economic recession triggered by the pandemic.

The setback throws into further doubt the achievement of the “zero hunger” goal by 2030, the study concluded.

The report also stressed that “a switch to healthy diets around the globe is necessary to roll back hunger and malnutrition.”

They called for governments to place “the pursuit of affordable healthy diets at the heart of agricultural policies, social protection and investment decisions,” adopting policies that could save billions of euros a year in health costs.

Five United Nations agencies co-authored the report: the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization.

Last year, the report estimated over 820 million hungry, but estimates were recalculated following revised data from China for prior years.

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