Circa 2003

When we think of hungry children the images are almost always the same, African children squat ting in squalor, the vacant look of hunger in their eyes In reality, hunger and malnutrition are not problems isolated to third-world countries. In fact, 13 million children in the US live in households that do not have an adequate supply of food. Still, the global numbers are staggering with more than 840 million people in the world classified as malnourished-799 million of them from the developing world. More than 153 million of the malnourished population are under the age of five.

Protein-energy malnutrition (PEM) is by far the most lethal form of malnutrition/hunger and the one most often referred to when discussing world hunger. Children are its most visible victims. Malnutrition plays a role in at least half of the 10.9 million child deaths each year. Many of the children die from mostly preventable and treatable causes such as diarrhea, acute respiratory infections. measles or malaria. These diseases are far more deadly to children who are stunted or underweight. Such young children are prematurely and needlessly lost.

First recognized in the 20th century, PEM’s full impact has been revealed only in recent decades. Infants and young children are most susceptible to PEM’s characteristic growth impairment because of their high energy and protein needs, and their vulnerability to infection. Globally, children who are poorly nourished suffer up to 160 days of illness each year. Malnutrition magnifies the effect of every disease.

Recent research indicates that even mild under-nutrition experienced by young children during critical periods of growth may lead to reductions in physical growth and impaired brain function. Malnutrition can severely affect a child’s intellectual development. Children who have stunted growth due to malnutrition score significantly lower on math and language achievement tests than do well-nourished children.

A number of trace elements or micronutrients such as Vitamin A, iron and iodine are important for health Vitamin A deficiency can cause night blindness and reduces the body’s resistance to disease. In children, Vitamin A deficiency can cause growth retardation estimated 79 million pre-school children suffered for Vitamin A deficiency in 1995.

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Iron deficiency is a principal cause of anemia. Two billion people-over 30 percent of the world’s population-are anemic, mainly due to iron deficiency. In children, health consequences include premature birth.

low birth weight, infections and elevated risk of death. Later, physical and cognitive development are impaired. resulting in overall lowered school performance. For pregnant women, anemia contributes to 20 percent of all maternal deaths.

lodine deficiency disorders (IDD) jeopardize children’s mental health and often their very lives. Serious iodine deficiency during pregnancy may result in stillbirths. spontaneous abortions and congenital abnormalities such as cretinism, a grave, irreversible form of mental retardation that affects people living in iodine-deficient areas of Africa and Asia. The same level of iron deficiency that can affect school performance also lowers intellectual prowess at home and at work. IDD affects over 740 million people, 13 percent of the world’s population. Fifty million people have some degree of mental impairment caused by IDD.

Other effects of malnutrition are broad and contribute to a variety of health-related problems including high infant-mortality rates, vulnerability to common illness es, increased risk of infection and poor physical and cognitive development. Malnourished women are more likely to be sick, have smaller babies and die earlier, resulting in high levels of infant mortality in areas where chronic hunger is a problem. Where infant and child mortality is high, birth rates are also high. locking these communities in a vicious cycle of mal nutrition and death. An increased vulnerability to common illnesses causes more than two million children to die every year from dehydration caused by diarrhea. A malnourished child often lacks even the strength to survive a severe case of diarrhea. Having a weakened immune system makes a child more vulnerable to infection, in turn causing lack of appetite and further com promising the child’s ability to fight off recurrent and lingering infections.

Lastly, chronic hunger deprives children of the essential proteins, micronutrients and fatty acids they need to grow adequately Globally, it is estimated that nearly 226 million children are stunted-shorter than they should be..

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Why is hunger such a devastating issue with no apparent solution in sight? A common myth insinuates there is not enough food to go around. This is not a reality. Abundance, not scarcity, best describes the world’s food supply. Enough wheat, rice and other grains are produced to provide every human being with 3.500 calories a day. That doesn’t even count many other commonly eaten foods such as vegetables, beans, nuts, root crops. fruits, grass-fed meats and fish. Enough food is available to provide at least 4.3 pounds of food per person a day worldwide, including two and half pounds of grain. beans and nuts, about a pound of fruits and vegetables. and nearly another pound of meat, milk and eggs enough to make most people fat! The problem is that many people are too poor to buy readily available food. Even most hungry countries have enough food for all their people right now. Many are net exporters of food and other agricultural products.

Currently, most government and private efforts to reduce world hunger are focused on the technological quest to produce ever higher yields on agricultural land. Many believe this approach is misguided and is actually increasing the hunger crisis and is causing environmental and social devastation.

The myth that more food will cure hunger diverts attention from the urgent need for economic reforms, land redistribution, and sustainable and affordable farm practices. In order to feed the world, we need a major shift in focus in support of local agriculture, where people live close to or on the land, grow food to feed their own communities and use ecologically sustainable techniques Ultimately, the solution to hunger can only be solved by an agricultural system that promotes food independence within these communities, town or people groups.

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