World Hunger Essay: Causes of World Hunger & How to Solve It

World hunger essay introduction, history of world hunger, statistics of the world hunger, causes of the world hunger, impacts of world hunger, responses to world hunger, recommended solutions, world hunger essay conclusion.

World hunger is one of the best topics to write about. You can discuss its causes, how to solve it, and how we can create a world without hunger. Whether you need to write an entire world hunger essay or just a conclusion or a hook, this sample will inspire you.

Hunger is a term that has been defined differently by different people due to its physiological as well as its socio economic aspects. In most cases, the term hunger has been defined in relation to food insecurity. However, according to Holben (n. d. pp. 1), hunger is usually defined as a condition that is painful or uneasy emanating from lack of food.

In the same studies, hunger has yet been defined as persistent and involuntary inability to access food. Therefore, world hunger refers to a condition characterized by want and scarce food in the whole world. Technically, hunger refers to malnutrition a condition that is marked by lack of some, or all the nutrients that are necessary to maintain health of an individual.

There are two types of malnutrition which include micronutrient deficiency and protein energy malnutrition. It is important to note that world hunger generally refers to protein energy malnutrition which is caused by inadequacy of proteins and energy giving food. According to World Hunger education Service (2010 Para. 4), the recent statistics by Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) records that there is a total of about nine hundred and twenty five million people in the whole world who are described as hungry.

It is a serious condition since statistics indicate that the number has been on the increase since the mid twentieth center. With that background in mind, this paper shall focus on the problem of world hunger, history, statistics, impacts as well as solutions to the problem.

The problem of hunger has been persistent since early centuries given that people residing in Europe continent used to suffer from serious shortages of food. The problem intensified in the twentieth century due to increase of wars, plagues and other natural disasters like floods, famines and earth quakes. Consequently, a lot of people succumbed to malnutrition and death.

However, during the mid twentieth century and after the Second World War, food production increased by 69% and therefore, there was enough food to feed the population by (National Research Council (U.S.) Committee on Public Engineering Policy, 1975 pp. vii).

The situation of food adequacy which continued from the year 1954-1972 was as a result of various factors which were inclusive but not limited to better methods of farming, land reclamation, use of fertilizers, use of irrigation, as well as use of machines and other forms of skilled labor.

In 1970s, people thought that they could keep the problem of hunger under control by conserving environment, controlling population growth and technological development. Nevertheless, even with such optimism, studies of National Research Council (U.S.).

Committee on Public Engineering Policy (1975 pp. vii), record that by 1974, the condition had already grown out of hand because there was not only a high population growth rate, but energy was also extremely expensive. To make the matter worse, the same study records that a quarter of the total population in the world were already experiencing hunger.

Therefore, due to hunger, agencies which were dealing with the problem started to request for the intervention of the humanitarian relief as well as trying to solve the problem thorough the use of the green revolution. The problem of hunger contributed greatly to the technological development since by all costs, people had to survive. However, although agriculture continued to expand, the population continued to increase and that is why the problem of hunger has persisted throughout the twentieth century to the twenty first century.

As highlighted in the introductory part, nine million people in the world are malnourished but further studies indicate that the exact number is not known. It is important to note that though the problem of hunger is virtually everywhere in the world, most of the hunger stricken people are found in the developing countries.

Despite the fact that the number has been on the increase since 1995, a decrease was observed in last year. The figures below clearly explain the statistical trend of world hunger from 1968 to 2009 (World Hunger Education Service, 2010 Para. 4).

Figure 1. The Number of Hunger Stricken People from 1969-2010

The Number of Hunger Stricken People from 1969-2010

Source (World Hunger Education Service, 2010)

Figure 2: Distribution of Hungry People in the Whole World by Regions

Distribution of Hungry People in the Whole World by Regions

Source: (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2010 pp. 2)

The above figure clearly illustrates that the problem of hunger is most common in the developing countries and less common in the developed countries. According to Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2010 pp. 2), 19 million are found in developed countries, thirty seven million in North East and North Africa, fifty three in Latin and Caribbean America, two hundred and thirty nine million in Sub Saharan Africa and five hundred and seventy eight in Asia and Pacific Region.

However, it is important to mention that the Food and Agriculture Organization arrives at the above figures by considering the total income of people and the income distribution. Therefore, the figures given are just estimates and that is the main reason why it has become increasingly difficult to get the actual number of hungry people in the whole world.

There are many causes of world hunger but poverty is the main and the same is caused by lack of enough resources as well as unequal distribution of recourses among the populations especially in the developing countries.

According to World Hunger Education Service (2010 Para 10. ), World Bank estimates that there are a bout one million, three hundred and forty five million people who are poor in the whole world since their daily expenditure is 1.25 dollars or even less. Similarly, Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that about one billion people in the whole world are under nourished.

As expected, the problem of poverty affects mostly the developing countries although there have been a lot of campaigns which have been launched with an aim of poverty reduction. Consequently in some parts Asia and China, the campaigns have been successful because the number has reduced by 19% (World Hunger Education Service, 2010 para. 12). Conversely, in some parts like the sub-Saharan Africa, the number of poor people has gone up.

Since the study has indicated that poverty is the main cause of hunger, it is important to look at the underlying cause of poverty. According to World Hunger Education Service (2010), the current economic as well as political systems in the world contribute greatly to the problem of hunger and poverty.

The main reason is due to the fact that more often than not, resources are controlled by the economic and political institutions which are controlled by the minority. Therefore, policies which emanate from poor economic systems are contributory factor to poverty and hunger.

Conflict and war is an important cause of not only poverty but also hunger. The main reason is due to the fact that conflicts lead to displacement of people and destruction of property and other resources that can be helpful in alleviating hunger. Towards the end of 2005, the number of refugees was lower compared to the current number influenced by violence and conflicts which have been taking place in Iraq as well as in Somali.

The same study clearly indicates that towards the end of the year 2008, UNHCR had recorded more than ten million refugees. A year after, internally displaced persons in the whole world had reached a total of twenty six million (World Hunger Education Service 2010 par 13). However, although it is difficult to provide the total number of internally displaced people due to conflicts, the truth is, refugees mostly suffer from poverty which exposes them to extreme hunger.

Over the last century, climate has been changing in most parts of the world, a condition which has been caused by global warming. It is a real phenomena and the effects of the same are observed in most parts of the world which are inclusive but not limited to draughts, floods, changing weather and climatic patterns as well as hurricanes (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Economic and Social Dept, 2005).

Such effects of globalization contribute greatly to hunger because they destroy the already cultivated food leading to food shortages.

Changing weather and climate patterns require a change to certain crops which is not only expensive but it also takes long to be implemented. In addition, some plants and animals have become extinct and the same contributes greatly to food shortages and hunger in general. Nonetheless, the most serious consequences of global warming are floods draughts and famines since they lead to poverty which ends up increasing people’s susceptibility to hunger. ( Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2010)

High food prices in both domestic and international markets are also a contributory factor to world hunger. Although the level of poverty is increasing because the level of income has reduced, the price of various food commodities has also gone up and therefore, it has become increasingly difficult for people to afford adequate food for their needs.

According to the studies of Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2008 pp. 24), between the year 2002 to 2007, prices of cereals such as wheat maize as well as rice increased by about fifty percent in the world market.

Nonetheless, although the world market food prices were increasing, the rate was different with domestic prices, a condition caused by the depreciating value of the US dollar while compared to other currencies in the world. However, in the year 2007 and 2008, domestic food prices in most countries also ended up increasing.

High prices in the domestic market are caused by high prices for agricultural inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides. As highlighted earlier, the need for use of advanced agricultural inputs results from the effects of global warming which is also a chief cause of world hunger and food insecurity.

There are many impacts of world hunger because food is a basic need for everyone in the society. Although impacts of hunger affect people across all the age brackets, young children are usually the worst victims. In science, the condition caused by hunger and starvation is known as under nutrition. It increases the disease burden such that in one year; under nourished children suffer from illnesses for at least five months as the condition lowers their immunity.

In most cases, undernourishment is the underlying cause of various diseases that affect children like malaria, measles, diarrhea and pneumonia. Studies of World Hunger Education Service (2010 par. 10) indicate that malnutrition is the underlying cause of more than half of all the cases of malaria diarrhea and pneumonia in young children. In measles, the same studies indicate that forty five percent of all the cases result from malnutrition.

As the problem of hunger, malnutrition is unequally distributed in the world because about thirty two percent of the stunted children live in the developing countries. Seventy percent of the total number of the malnourished children is found in Asia while Africa hosts 26% and the remaining four percent are from Caribbean and Latin America (World Hunger Education Service, 2010 par 11).

The study points out that the problem starts even before birth because in most cases, pregnant mothers are also usually undernourished. Due to this problem, in every six infants, one is usually undernourished. Apart from death, under nourishment resulting from hunger also causes blindness, difficulties in learning, stunted growth, retardation and poor health, to name just a few.

Apart from disease, poverty is also a resultant factor of hunger. In reference to the definition of hunger as an uncomfortable condition resulting from lack of food, hungry people are usually incapacitated. Since food is an important source of energy, people suffering from hunger are usually not in a position to take part in useful economic activities and a result, they are usually poor.

In addition, hunger is one of the reasons that cause people to migrate from one place to another there by causing economic constraints to the host countries. Conflicts also emanate from the same as people compete for scarce resources. A lot of humanitarian agencies use most of their funds in proving food to the people suffering from hunger either in refugee camps or in other places.

As a result, governments spend a lot of money in providing humanitarian support while the same amount of money could have been used in development projects. Impacts of hunger are mostly felt in the developing countries, Asia and Sub Saharan Africa because in most cases, the problem of hunger in such regions is usually an international problem because regional governments cannot be able to deal with it single handedly ( World Vision, 2010).

Hunger being a serious problem requires no emphasis and therefore, there are some responses which are meant to mitigate the problem. Various policies have therefore been established in all related areas. For example, there are various policies that that have been established to regulate high food prices. Such measures are inclusive but not limited to tax on imports, restricting export to maintain adequate food in the country, measures to control prices of food as well as to enhance food affordability, and stabilizing prices.

Improving and increasing agricultural produce is an important measure that has been taking place especially in the developing countries meant to increase supply and eventually curb the problem of hunger. At this point, is important to note that the number of response which have be taken to reduce or eliminate the problem of hunger vary from one region to another.

In addition, every region implements the policies that can be useful in that particular region. According to Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2010 pp.32 ), a survey conducted in the year 2007 and 2008 indicated that about 50% of all the countries reduced the tax of imports on cereals and more than fifty percent adopted measures like consumer subsidies with an aim of lowering domestic food prices.

Twenty five percent of the countries imposed restrictions on exports to minimize the outflow of food and the remaining 16% had done nothing to solve the problem of high domestic food prices. It is quite unfortunate that the regions that are mostly affected by hunger like Sub Saharan Africa; Caribbean as well Latin America has established the lowest number of policies.

Although such policies are of great help locally, they have negative impacts in the international markets. For example, due to restriction on exports, the supply of food at the international markets is usually low and as a result, the prices end up increasing. Apart from that, subsidies on imports increase government expenditure thereby straining the budget.

Therefore, it is clear that some measures of price do not control neither they end up mitigating the problem since they affect other people like farmers and traders. The main cause of the problem is due to the fact that most governments are unable to protect their economy from external influences.

While looking for the solutions to the problem, it is important to note that the demand of food will continue to increase due to various factors like urban growth and development as well as the high level of income. In that case, there is a great need for increasing food production.

In addition, the intervention should aim at not only solving the current problem but also solving any shortage that may emerge in future. Therefore, all regions and especially the sub-Saharan Africa ought to focus on increasing agricultural production. Moreover, it is necessary to come up with appropriate policies to ensure that the increase in food production will solve the problem of food insecurity (National Research Council (U.S.). Committee on Public Engineering Policy, 1975).

One of the problems that have been causing hunger especially in developing countries is inaccessibility to adequate food. As a result, the concerned stakeholders should look for ways and means of increasing food accessibility. For instance; it would be more helpful if the production of small scale farmers could increase because the problem cannot only help in lowering food prices in the global market but also in alleviating poverty and hunger in the rural areas.

Although incentives and agricultural inputs are important in increasing agricultural production in the rural areas, some other measures can still be used in the same areas. For instance, in a region like Africa, more areas can be irrigated and by so doing, agricultural production can increase as well ( Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2010).

World hunger is a real and a serious problem not only due to its grave impacts but also due to the complexity of the whole issue. A lot of people in the whole world are exposed to hunger. A critical analysis of the problem illustrates that it not only results from low food production but it is also affected by other factors such as inaccessibility of food, high food prices and some policies established by the government.

For example, the research has indicated that some polices that control the prices of food in local markets end up increasing food prices in the global market. In the view of the fact that hunger is the underlying cause of poverty, disease and eventually death, it is important for the concerned stake holders to address the issue accordingly.

As the studies of Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, (2008, p. 2) indicate, the over nine million hunger stricken people can be saved only if the stake holders that are inclusive of the government, United Nations, civil societies, donors and humanitarian agencies, general public and the private sector can join hands in combating the problem.

In order to come up with lasting solutions, their efforts should be aimed at improving the agricultural sector and establishing safety nets to protect the vulnerable population. Finally, in every challenge, there is an opportunity and in that case, the high prices of food can be used as an opportunity by small scale producers to increase their produce and get more returns and thereby reduce problems like poverty which contribute to hunger. Therefore, even though the problem is complicated, viable solutions still exist.

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Poverty and hunger are multidimensional phenomena. According to the National Research Council ( 2006 ), hunger refers to a life-threatening lack of food or short-term physical discomfort as a result of food shortage. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that about 10.7% of the world’s total population are suffering from chronic malnutrition (FAO 2017 ).

Food production is enough to feed the world population. The main problem is that many people in the world still do not have a minimum income level to buy nutritious food for their own. The Hunger Project estimates that about 11% of people are living in poverty and survive on 1.90 USD or less per day (The Hunger Project 2019 ). According to the World Bank (WB 2019 ), 1.90 USD or below income level per day is known as extreme poverty. The majority of...

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Home — Essay Samples — Social Issues — Poverty — Hunger

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Essays on Hunger

World hunger essay topics and outline examples, essay title 1: combating world hunger: challenges, solutions, and the role of global cooperation.

Thesis Statement: This essay delves into the complex issue of world hunger, analyzing its root causes, exploring sustainable solutions, and emphasizing the importance of international collaboration in eradicating hunger and ensuring food security for all.

  • Introduction
  • Defining World Hunger: Scope and Consequences of the Crisis
  • Causes of Hunger: Poverty, Conflict, Climate Change, and Inequality
  • Global Food Systems: Challenges and Vulnerabilities
  • Sustainable Agriculture and Food Production: Ensuring a Future for All
  • Humanitarian Aid and Development Initiatives: Navigating Relief and Long-Term Solutions
  • International Cooperation and Policy Frameworks: Advancing Global Food Security

Essay Title 2: The Silent Crisis: Examining the Faces of Hunger and Malnutrition Worldwide

Thesis Statement: This essay sheds light on the human faces of hunger and malnutrition, highlighting the stories of those affected, the consequences on health and well-being, and the importance of targeted interventions to address this global humanitarian crisis.

  • Hunger Beyond Statistics: Personal Narratives and Humanitarian Photography
  • Malnutrition and Health: The Interplay of Hunger and Disease
  • Children and Hunger: Impact on Growth, Development, and Future Opportunities
  • Gender and Hunger: Exploring Disparities and Empowering Women
  • Community-Led Solutions: Grassroots Efforts and Empowerment
  • Media and Advocacy: Raising Awareness and Mobilizing Resources

Essay Title 3: From Policy to Plate: Examining Food Security Strategies and Sustainable Solutions for a Hunger-Free World

Thesis Statement: This essay investigates food security policies and sustainable strategies aimed at eliminating world hunger, exploring the role of governments, NGOs, and individuals in ensuring equitable access to nutritious food and eradicating hunger globally.

  • Food Security vs. Food Insecurity: Defining the Concept and Its Implications
  • Governmental Initiatives: National Food Policies and Hunger Alleviation Programs
  • NGOs and Humanitarian Agencies: Relief Efforts and Sustainable Development
  • The Role of Sustainable Agriculture: Farming Practices and Environmental Stewardship
  • Educational Initiatives: Promoting Food Literacy and Empowering Communities
  • Individual Actions: Reducing Food Waste, Supporting Local Economies, and Advocating for Change

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Hunger refers to the physiological sensation and discomfort caused by a lack of food and the body's need for nourishment. It is a basic human instinct triggered by the body's internal signals that indicate the depletion of energy reserves and the requirement for sustenance. Hunger can manifest as an intense desire or craving for food, accompanied by physical symptoms such as stomach contractions, weakness, lightheadedness, and irritability.

Hunger in the United States is a persistent and complex issue that affects millions of people. Despite being one of the wealthiest countries in the world, food insecurity remains a significant problem for many Americans. Various factors contribute to hunger, including poverty, unemployment, high living costs, and limited access to affordable, nutritious food. Vulnerable populations, such as children, the elderly, and minority communities, are disproportionately affected. Government programs like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and food banks play a crucial role in addressing hunger, but they often face challenges in meeting the growing demand for assistance. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated food insecurity, highlighting the fragility of food systems and the need for more comprehensive and sustainable solutions. Addressing hunger requires a multifaceted approach that combines social policies, economic reforms, and community-based initiatives. By raising awareness about the issue and advocating for change, we can work towards a future where no one in the United States goes hungry.

The historical context of hunger is deeply intertwined with the development of human societies and their ability to secure sufficient food resources. Throughout history, periods of famine and scarcity have been common, often linked to factors such as climate change, natural disasters, war, economic instability, and political upheaval. In ancient civilizations, such as Egypt and Mesopotamia, agricultural practices and the management of food surpluses played a vital role in preventing widespread hunger. However, even in these societies, food shortages and famines could occur, leading to social unrest and migrations. The Industrial Revolution brought significant changes to food production and distribution, with advancements in technology, transportation, and trade. While these developments improved access to food for some, they also led to social and economic disparities, contributing to the persistence of hunger in urban slums and marginalized communities. The 20th century witnessed various efforts to address hunger globally. The establishment of international organizations like the United Nations and initiatives like the Green Revolution aimed to increase food production and improve access to nutrition. However, challenges such as population growth, unequal distribution, and inadequate infrastructure continue to impact hunger rates.

Several countries around the world continue to face significant challenges related to hunger and food insecurity. These challenges vary in nature and severity, influenced by factors such as economic conditions, political stability, climate, and social inequalities. Here are a few examples of countries that have been affected by hunger: 1. Sub-Saharan Africa: Many countries in this region experience high levels of hunger and malnutrition. Countries like South Sudan, Chad, and the Central African Republic have been particularly affected due to ongoing conflicts, displacement, and limited access to food and resources. 2. Yemen: The ongoing conflict in Yemen has resulted in one of the world's worst humanitarian crises. The country faces severe food shortages, with a large proportion of the population experiencing extreme hunger and malnutrition. 3. Haiti: As the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti has long struggled with food insecurity. Environmental challenges such as deforestation, natural disasters, and limited agricultural resources exacerbate the situation, leaving a significant portion of the population vulnerable to hunger. 4. Venezuela: Economic and political instability in Venezuela has resulted in a severe food crisis. Hyperinflation, shortages of basic goods, and a crumbling infrastructure have led to widespread hunger and malnutrition among the population.

1. Poverty: Poverty is one of the primary drivers of hunger. People living in poverty often lack the financial resources to access sufficient nutritious food consistently. Limited income and economic disparities prevent individuals and communities from meeting their basic food needs. 2. Conflict and Political Instability: Armed conflicts and political instability disrupt food production, distribution, and access. In war-torn regions, crops are destroyed, markets are disrupted, and infrastructure is damaged, leading to food shortages and heightened vulnerability to hunger. 3. Climate Change and Environmental Factors: Extreme weather events, droughts, floods, and other climate-related factors affect agricultural productivity and food production. Climate change exacerbates existing food insecurity and can lead to crop failures, livestock losses, and reduced access to water resources. 4. Lack of Agricultural Resources and Infrastructure: Limited access to arable land, water, seeds, fertilizers, and modern agricultural technologies can hinder food production. Inadequate infrastructure, such as roads and storage facilities, can impede the distribution of food from rural areas to urban centers. 5. Unequal Food Distribution: Inequitable distribution and access to food are major contributors to hunger. Food may be available at a global or national level, but unequal distribution systems, inadequate transportation, and market forces prevent food from reaching those in need.

1. Malnutrition: Hunger often leads to malnutrition, which occurs when individuals do not receive adequate nutrients for their body's needs. Malnutrition can result in stunted growth, weakened immune systems, micronutrient deficiencies, and increased susceptibility to diseases. 2. Health Issues: Prolonged hunger can lead to a range of health problems, including weakened immune systems, increased mortality rates (especially among children and pregnant women), higher vulnerability to infections and diseases, and impaired cognitive development in children. 3. Impaired Education and Productivity: Hunger affects educational opportunities as hungry children may have difficulty focusing in school, have lower energy levels, and struggle with cognitive function. This can result in poor academic performance, limited opportunities, and reduced productivity in adulthood, perpetuating the cycle of poverty. 4. Economic Consequences: Hunger hampers economic development by limiting the productivity and potential of individuals. Malnourished individuals are often unable to work to their full capacity, leading to decreased productivity and economic output at both individual and national levels. 5. Social Instability: Persistent hunger can contribute to social unrest and conflict. When communities and populations experience chronic food insecurity, it can lead to tensions, migration, and social instability as people struggle to meet their basic needs. 6. Inter-generational Impact: Hunger can have long-lasting effects on future generations. Malnutrition experienced during pregnancy and early childhood can have lifelong consequences on physical and cognitive development, perpetuating the cycle of poverty and hunger.

1. Agricultural Development: Investing in agricultural development is crucial to increase food production and improve access to nutritious food. This includes promoting sustainable farming practices, providing farmers with access to modern technologies, improving irrigation systems, and supporting small-scale farmers to enhance their productivity. 2. Poverty Alleviation: Poverty is closely linked to hunger, so addressing poverty is essential in combating hunger. This can be achieved through economic empowerment initiatives, job creation programs, and social safety nets that provide support to vulnerable populations. 3. Nutritional Programs: Implementing targeted nutritional programs is important, especially for children and pregnant women. This includes promoting breastfeeding, providing fortified foods and supplements, supporting school feeding programs, and educating communities about proper nutrition. 4. Access to Education: Education plays a vital role in breaking the cycle of hunger and poverty. By improving access to quality education, especially for girls, we can empower individuals with knowledge and skills that can lead to better job opportunities and income generation. 5. Empowering Women: Gender equality is crucial in addressing hunger. Women often play a significant role in food production and family nutrition. Empowering women by providing them with education, access to resources, and decision-making power can have a positive impact on reducing hunger. 6. Social Safety Nets: Establishing social safety nets such as cash transfer programs, food vouchers, and public works programs can provide immediate relief to those facing acute food insecurity. These programs help vulnerable populations meet their basic needs during times of crisis. 7. Sustainable Food Systems: Promoting sustainable food production and consumption patterns is essential to ensure long-term food security. This involves reducing food waste, promoting agroecology and regenerative farming practices, and supporting local food systems to enhance resilience and minimize environmental impacts. 8. International Cooperation: Hunger is a global challenge that requires international collaboration and support. Governments, organizations, and individuals must work together to provide funding, technical assistance, and knowledge sharing to countries in need.

1. Documentaries: Films like "A Place at the Table" and "Hunger in America" provide an in-depth look at the realities of hunger and food insecurity in the United States. These documentaries shed light on the systemic issues contributing to hunger and showcase the stories of individuals and communities affected by it. 2. News Coverage: News outlets often report on hunger crises and food-related issues around the world. They highlight the causes and consequences of hunger, discuss government policies, and feature interviews with experts and affected individuals. Media coverage helps create public awareness and encourages dialogue on finding solutions. 3. Social Media Campaigns: Organizations and activists leverage social media platforms to raise awareness about hunger and promote initiatives for change. Hashtags like #EndHunger, #ZeroHunger, and #FeedtheWorld are used to share stories, statistics, and calls to action, mobilizing individuals to support organizations working to combat hunger. 4. Photojournalism: Powerful images captured by photojournalists depict the harsh realities of hunger, both globally and locally. These photographs often evoke empathy and inspire action by exposing the human suffering caused by food insecurity. 5. Fictional Works: Hunger is also depicted in literature and fictional works. Novels like "The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck and "Half of a Yellow Sun" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie portray the impact of hunger on characters and communities, providing a deeper understanding of its consequences.

1. According to the World Food Programme, approximately 811 million people worldwide were undernourished in 2020, which is an increase of around 161 million people compared to the previous year. This significant rise in hunger is primarily attributed to factors such as conflict, climate change, and economic instability. 2. In the United States, despite being one of the wealthiest nations, hunger remains a pressing issue. According to Feeding America, a network of food banks, around 42 million Americans, including 13 million children, were food insecure in 2020. This means they did not have consistent access to enough nutritious food for an active and healthy life. 3. Women and girls are disproportionately affected by hunger. The United Nations reports that women make up around 60% of the world's chronically hungry population. This disparity is due to various factors, including limited access to resources, gender inequalities, and cultural norms that often prioritize men's food consumption over women's.

Hunger is an essential topic to explore and write an essay about due to its significant impact on individuals, communities, and global development. It is a complex issue with multifaceted causes and far-reaching consequences, making it crucial to address and understand. By writing an essay on hunger, one can raise awareness about its prevalence, challenge misconceptions, and advocate for effective solutions. Firstly, examining the causes of hunger, such as poverty, inequality, climate change, and conflict, allows for a comprehensive understanding of the issue. It sheds light on the structural and systemic factors that perpetuate food insecurity, helping to identify areas for intervention and policy reform. Secondly, analyzing the effects of hunger on individuals and societies reveals its devastating consequences. Hunger leads to malnutrition, impaired physical and cognitive development, increased susceptibility to diseases, and compromised economic productivity. Exploring these effects highlights the urgency of addressing hunger as a fundamental human rights issue. Furthermore, discussing solutions to hunger is essential in order to find sustainable and inclusive approaches. This may involve supporting small-scale agriculture, promoting gender equality, improving access to education and healthcare, and implementing effective social safety nets.

1. Cannon, W. B., & Washburn, A. L. (1912). An explanation of hunger. American Journal of Physiology-Legacy Content, 29(5), 441-454. ( 2. Sanchez, P. A., & Swaminathan, M. S. (2005). Cutting world hunger in half. Science, 307(5708), 357-359. ( 3. Rosenzweig, C., & Parry, M. L. (1994). Potential impact of climate change on world food supply. Nature, 367(6459), 133-138. 4. Roser, M., & Ritchie, H. (2019). Hunger and undernourishment. Our World in Data. ( 5. Bruch, H. (1969). Hunger and instinct. The Journal of nervous and mental disease, 149(2), 91-114. ( 6. Uvin, P. (1994). The state of world hunger. Nutrition Reviews, 52(5), 151-161. ( 7. Aiken, W., & LaFollette, H. (1996). World hunger and morality (No. Ed. 2). Prentice-Hall Inc.. ( 8. Dyson, T. (1999). World food trends and prospects to 2025. Proceedings of the National academy of Sciences, 96(11), 5929-5936. ( 9. Nah, S. L., & Chau, C. F. (2010). Issues and challenges in defeating world hunger. Trends in food science & technology, 21(11), 544-557. 10. Pimentel, D., McNair, M., Buck, L., Pimentel, M., & Kamil, J. (1997). The value of forests to world food security. Human ecology, 25, 91-120. (

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world hunger thesis

A global food crisis

Conflict, economic shocks, climate extremes and soaring fertilizer prices are combining to create a food crisis of unprecedented proportions. As many as 783 million people are facing chronic hunger. We have a choice: act now to save lives and invest in solutions that secure food security, stability and peace for all, or see people around the world facing rising hunger. 

2023: Another year of extreme jeopardy for those struggling to feed their families

The scale of the current global hunger and malnutrition crisis is enormous. WFP estimates – from 78 of the countries where it works (and where data is available) – that more than 333 million people are facing acute levels of food insecurity in 2023, and do not know where their next meal is coming from.  This constitutes a staggering rise of almost 200 million people compared to pre-COVID-19 pandemic levels. 

At least 129,000 people are expected to experience famine in Burkina Faso, Mali, Somalia and South Sudan. Furthermore, any fragile progress already made in reducing numbers risks being lost, due to funding gaps and resulting cuts in assistance.  The global community must not fail on its promise to end hunger and malnutrition by 2030.   

WFP is facing multiple challenges – the number of acutely hungry people continues to increase at a pace that funding is unlikely to match , while the  cost of delivering food assistance is at an all-time high  because food and fuel prices have increased.  

Unmet needs heighten the risk of hunger and malnutrition. Unless the necessary resources are made available,  lost lives and the reversal of hard-earned development gains  will be the price to pay. 

The causes of hunger and famine

But why is the world  hungrier than ever? 

This seismic hunger crisis has been caused by a deadly combination of factors. 

Conflict is still the biggest driver of hunger, with 70 percent of the world's hungry people living in areas afflicted by war  and violence. Events in Ukraine are further proof of how conflict feeds hunger – forcing people out of their homes, wiping out their sources of income and wrecking countries’ economies. 

The climate crisis is one of the leading causes of the steep rise in global hunger.  Climate shocks destroy lives, crops and livelihoods, and undermine people’s ability to feed themselves.  Hunger will spiral out of control if the world fails to take immediate climate action. 

Global fertilizer prices have climbed even faster than food prices, which remain at a ten-year high themselves. The effects of the war in Ukraine, including higher natural gas prices, have further disrupted global fertilizer production and exports – reducing supplies, raising prices and threatening to reduce harvests.  High fertilizer prices could turn the current food affordability crisis into a food availability crisis, with production of maize, rice, soybean and wheat all falling in 2022. 

On top of increased operational costs , WFP is facing a major drop in funding in 2023 compared to the previous year, reflecting the new and more challenging financial landscape that the entire humanitarian sector is navigating. As a result, assistance levels are well below those of 2022. Almost half of WFP country operations have already been forced to cut the size and scope of food, cash and nutrition assistance by up to 50 percent.

WFP Annual Review 2022

Publication | 23 June 2023

WFP and FAO sound the alarm as global food crisis tightens its grip on hunger hotspots

Story | 21 September 2022

WFP scales up support to most vulnerable in global food crisis

Publication | 14 July 2022

Hunger hotspots

From the Central American Dry Corridor and Haiti, through the Sahel, Central African Republic, South Sudan and then eastwards to the Horn of Africa, Syria, Yemen and all the way to Afghanistan,  conflict and climate shocks are driving millions of people to the brink of starvation. 

Last year, the world rallied extraordinary resources – a record-breaking US$14.1 billion for WFP alone – to tackle the unprecedented global food crisis. In countries like Somalia, which has been  teetering on the brink of famine,  the international community came together and managed to pull people back. But it is not sufficient to only keep people alive. We need to go further, and  this can only be achieved by addressing the underlying causes of hunger. 

The consequences of not investing in resilience activities will reverberate across borders. If communities are not empowered to withstand shocks and stresses, this could result in  increased migration and possible destabilization and conflict.  Recent history has shown us this: when WFP ran out of funds to feed Syrian refugees in 2015, they had no choice but to leave the camps and seek help elsewhere, causing one of the  greatest refugee crises in recent European history.  

Let's stop hunger now

WFP’s changing lives work helps to build human capital, support governments in strengthening social protection programmes, stabilize communities in particularly precarious places, and help them to better survive sudden shocks without losing all their assets. 

In just four years of the  Sahel Resilience Scale-up, WFP and local communities turned 158,000 hectares of barren fields in the Sahel region of five African countries into farm and grazing land.  Over 2.5 million people benefited from integrated activities.  Evidence shows that people are better equipped to withstand seasonal shocks and have improved access to vital natural resources like land they can work.  Families and their homes, belongings and fields are better protected against climate hazards.  Support serves as a buffer to instability by bringing people together, creating social safety nets, keeping lands productive and offering job opportunities – all of which help to break the cycle of hunger. 

As a further example, WFP’s flagship microinsurance programme – the R4 Rural Resilience initiative –  protects around 360,000 farming and pastoralist families from climate hazards that threaten crops and livelihoods  in 14 countries including Bangladesh, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Fiji, Guatemala, Kenya, Madagascar and Zimbabwe. 

At the same time, WFP is working with governments in 83 countries to boost or build  national safety nets and nutrition-sensitive social protection, allowing us to reach more people than we can with emergency food assistance.  

Humanitarian assistance alone is not enough though. A  coordinated effort across governments, financial institutions, the private sector and partners is the only way to mitigate an even more severe crisis in 2023.  Good governance is a golden thread that holds society together, allowing human capital to grow, economies to develop and people to thrive.  

The world also needs deeper political engagement to reach zero hunger.  Only political will can end conflict in places like Yemen, Ethiopia and South Sudan, and without a firm political commitment to contain global warming as stipulated in the  Paris Agreement , the main drivers of hunger will continue unabated. 

In 2023, hunger levels are higher than ever before

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World Hunger: A Moral Response

  • Markkula Center for Applied Ethics
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This article explores whether or not people have a moral obligation to feed poor nations from several different aspects.">

Between now and tomorrow morning, 40,000 children will starve to death. The day after tomorrow, 40,000 more children will die, and so on throughout 1992. In a "world of plenty," the number of human beings dying or suffering from hunger, malnutrition, and hunger-related diseases is staggering. According to the World Bank, over 1 billion people—at least one quarter of the world's population—live in poverty. Over half of these people live in South Asia; most of the remainder in sub-Saharan Africa and East Asia.

The contrast between these peoples and the populations of rich nations is a stark one. In the poor nations of South Asia, the mortality rate among children under the age of 5 is more than 170 deaths per thousand, while in Sweden it is fewer than 10. In sub-Saharan Africa, life expectancy is 50 years, while in Japan it is 80.

These contrasts raise the question of whether people living in rich nations have a moral obligation to aid those in poor nations. Currently, less than 1/2 of 1% of the total world gross national product is devoted to aiding poverty-stricken nations. In 1988, the amount of aid from the U S. amounted to only 0.21% of its GNP. In 1990, the World Bank urged the international community to increase aid to poor countries to 0.7% of their GNP. If this goal is reached, poverty could be reduced by as much as 40% by the end of this decade. What is the extent of our duty to poor nations?

We Have No Obligation to Aid Poor Nations Some ethicists argue that rich nations have no obligation to aid poor nations. Our moral duty, they claim, is always to act in ways that will maximize human happiness and minimize human suffering. In the long run, aiding poor nations will produce far more suffering than it will alleviate. Nations with the highest incidence of poverty also have the highest birthrates. One report estimates that more than 90% of the world's total population growth between now and the year 2025 will occur in developing countries. Providing aid to people in such countries will only allow more of them to survive and reproduce, placing ever greater demands on the world's limited food supply. And as the populations of these countries swell, more people will be forced onto marginal and environmentally fragile lands, leading to widespread land degradation, further reducing the land available for food production. The increase in demands on the limited food supply combined with a decrease in the production of food will threaten the survival of future generations of all peoples, rich and poor.

Others claim that, even in the short-run, little benefit is derived from aiding poor nations. Aid sent to developing countries rarely reaches the people it was intended to benefit. Instead, it is used by oppressive governments to subsidize their military or spent on projects that benefit local elites, or ends up on the black market. Between 1978 and 1984, more than 80% of 596 million of food aid sent to Somalia went to the military and other public institutions. In El Salvador, 80% of U.S. aid in dry milk ended up on the black market. Furthermore, giving aid to poor countries undermines any incentive on the part of these countries to become self-sufficient through programs that would benefit the poor, such as those that would increase food production or control population growth. Food aid, for example, depresses local food prices, discouraging local food production and agricultural development. Poor dairy farmers in El Salvador have found themselves competing against free milk from the U.S. As a result of aid, many countries, such as Haiti, Sudan, and Zaire, have become aid dependent.

Some ethicists maintain that the principle of justice also dictates against aiding poor nations. Justice requires that benefits and burdens be distributed fairly among peoples. Nations that have planned for the needs of their citizens by regulating food production to ensure an adequate food supply for the present, as well as a surplus for emergencies, and nations that have implemented programs to limit population growth, should enjoy the benefits of their foresight. Many poor nations have irresponsibly failed to adopt policies that would stimulate food production and development. Instead, resources are spent on lavish projects or military regimes. Consider the $200 million air-conditioned cathedral recently constructed in the impoverished country of Cote D'Ivoire. Or consider that, in 1986, developing countries spent six times what they received in aid on their armed forces. Such nations that have failed to act responsibly should bear the consequences. It is unjust to ask nations that have acted responsibly to now assume the burdens of those nations that have not.

Finally, it is argued, all persons have a basic right to freedom, which includes the right to use the resources they have legitimately acquired as they freely choose. To oblige people in wealthy nations to give aid to poor nations violates this right. Aiding poor nations may be praiseworthy, but not obligatory.

We Have an Obligation to Aid Poor Nations Many maintain that the citizens of rich nations have a moral obligation to aid poor nations. First, some have argued, all persons have a moral obligation to prevent harm when doing so would not cause comparable harm to themselves. It is clear that suffering and death from starvation are harms. It is also clear that minor financial sacrifices on the part of people of rich nations can prevent massive amounts of suffering and death from starvation. Thus, they conclude, people in rich nations have a moral obligation to aid poor nations. Every week more than a quarter of a million children die from malnutrition and illness. Many of these deaths are preventable. For example, the diarrhea disease and respiratory infections that claim the lives of 16,000 children every day could be prevented by 10 cent packets of oral rehydration salts or by antibiotics usually costing under a dollar. The aid needed to prevent the great majority of child illness and death due to malnutrition in the next decade is equal to the amount of money spent in the U.S. to advertise cigarettes. It is well within the capacity of peoples of rich nations as collectives or as individuals to prevent these avoidable deaths and to reduce this misery without sacrificing anything of comparable significance. Personalizing the argument, Peter Singer, a contemporary philosopher, writes:

Just how much we will think ourselves obliged to give up will depend on what we consider to be of comparable moral significance to the poverty we could prevent: color television, stylish clothes, expensive dinners, a sophisticated stereo system, overseas holidays, a (second ?) car, a larger house, private schools for our children . . . none of these is likely to be of comparable significance to the reduction of absolute poverty.

Giving aid to the poor in other nations may require some inconvenience or some sacrifice of luxury on the part of peoples of rich nations, but to ignore the plight of starving people is as morally reprehensible as failing to save a child drowning in a pool because of the inconvenience of getting one's clothes wet.

In fact, according to Singer, allowing a person to die from hunger when it is easily within one's means to prevent it is no different, morally speaking, from killing another human being. If I purchase a VCR or spend money I don't need, knowing that I could instead have given my money to some relief agency that could have prevented some deaths from starvation, I am morally responsible for those deaths. The objection that I didn't intend for anyone to die is irrelevant. If I speed though an intersection and, as a result, kill a pedestrian, I am morally responsible for that death whether I intended it or not.

In making a case for aid to poor nations, others appeal to the principle of justice. Justice demands that people be compensated for the harms and injustices suffered at the hands of others. Much of the poverty of developing nations, they argue, is the result of unjust and exploitative policies of governments and corporations in wealthy countries. The protectionist trade policies of rich nations, for example, have driven down the price of exports of poor nations. According to one report, the European Economic Community imposes a tariff four times as high against cloth imported from poor nations as from rich ones. Such trade barriers cost developing countries $50 to $100 billion a year in lost sales and depressed markets. Moreover, the massive debt burdens consuming the resources of poor nations is the result of the tight monetary policies adopted by developed nations which drove up interest rates on the loans that had been made to these countries. In 1989, Third World countries owed $1.2 trillion nearly half of their total CNP to banks and governments in industrial countries. According to one report, since 1988, $50 billion a year has been transferred from poor nations to rich nations to service these debts.

Those who claim that wealthy nations have a duty to aid poor nations counter the argument that aiding poor nations will produce more suffering than happiness in the long run. First, they argue, there is no evidence to support the charge that aiding poor nations will lead to rapid population growth in these nations, thus straining the world's resource supply. Research shows that as poverty decreases, fertility rates decline. When people are economically secure, they have less need to have large families to ensure that they will be supported in old age. As infant mortality declines, there is less need to have more children to insure against the likelihood that some will die. With more aid, then, there is a fair chance that population growth will be brought under control.

Moreover, contrary to popular belief, it is rich countries, not poor countries, that pose a threat to the world's resource supply. The average American uses up to thirty times more of the world's resources than does the average Asian or African. If our concern is to ensure that there is an adequate resource base for the world's population, policies aimed at decreasing consumption by rich nations should be adopted.

Those who support aid to poor nations also counter the argument that aid to poor nations rarely accomplishes what it was intended to accomplish. As a result of aid, they point out, many countries have significantly reduced poverty and moved from dependence to self reliance. Aid has allowed Indonesia, for example, to reduce poverty from 58% to 17% in less than a generation. There are, unfortunately, instances in which the poor haven't benefitted from aid, but such cases only move us to find more effective ways to combat poverty in these countries, be it canceling debts, lowering trade restrictions, or improving distribution mechanisms for direct aid. Furthermore, poor nations would benefit from aid if more aid was sent to them in the first place. In 1988, 41% of all aid was directed to high-income and middle-income countries, rather than to low income countries. According to the World Bank, only 8% of U.S. aid in 1986 could be identified as development assistance devoted to low income countries. Obviously poor countries can't benefit from aid if they're not receiving it.

Finally, it is argued, all human beings have dignity deserving of respect and are entitled to what is necessary to live in dignity, including a right to life and a right to the goods necessary to satisfy one's basic needs. This right to satisfy basic needs takes precedence over the rights of others to accumulate wealth and property. When people are without the resources needed to survive, those with surplus resources are obligated to come to their aid.

In the coming decade, the gap between rich nations and poor nations will grow and appeals for assistance will multiply. How peoples of rich nations respond to the plight of those in poor nations will depend, in part, on how they come to view their duty to poor nations--taking into account justice and fairness, the benefits and harms of aid, and moral rights, including the right to accumulate surplus and the right to resources to meet basic human needs.

"I begin with the assumption that suffering from lack of food, shelter, and medical care are bad.... My next point is this: if it is within our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we ought, morally, to do it." --Peter Singer

Further reading

Brown, L. R. State of the World 1990: A Worldwatch Institute Report on progress toward a sustainable society. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1990.

Hardin, G. Lifeboat ethics: "The case against helping the poor." Psychology Today , September 1974, 8, pp. 38-43; 123-126.

Helmuth, J. W. "World hunger amidst plenty." USA Today , March 1989, 117, pp. 48-50. Singer, P. "Famine, affluence, and morality." Philosophy and Public Affairs , Spring 1972, 1, (3), pp. 229-243.

Worid Bank. World development report 1990: Poverty . Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990.

World Commission on Environment and Development. Our common future. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987.

This article was originally published in Issues in Ethics - V. 5, N. 1 Spring 1992

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Washington University Open Scholarship

  • < Previous


Undergraduate Theses—Unrestricted

Humanitarianism and the anthropology of hunger.

Kate Klein , Washington University in St Louis Follow

Date of Award

Summer 7-2-2013

Author's School

College of Arts & Sciences

Author's Department/Program


While the early view of hunger as the product of a world population too large to sustain has largely been eliminated, and the mainstream international community has come to accept that food insecurity results from issues of distribution rather than an insufficient global food supply, the emphasis on biotechnology in agriculture, humanitarianism in international aid, and social justice in international human rights law in the contemporary era has contributed to other barriers that prevent hunger alleviation.

In this thesis, I argue that these previous contemporary developments have had the capacity to hide hunger. My analysis of technology and humanitarian aid is supplemented largely by a discussion of hunger in the remote village of Bom Jesus in Northeast Brazil. In this setting, cultural beliefs, political repression, and postcolonial structures influence the way hunger is conceptualized – as the individualized ethnomedical condition, nervos , rather the social condition it is.

Critiques of humanitarianism and international aid have existed in academia for years but have become increasingly prevalent over the last quarter century. While I seek to prove that science and international aid and human rights law sometimes hinder efforts to relieve world hunger, so too does the fact that hunger is unrecognized in regions of the world adhering to cultural beliefs about it and their bodies. My own analysis of cultural constructions of hunger shows how they can exclude certain populations from being considered in aid efforts, which themselves can be problematic.

English (en)

Advisor/Committee Chair

Dr. Peter Benson

Advisor/Committee Chair's Department

Department of Anthropology

Second Advisor

Dr. Kedron Thomas

Second Advisor's Department

Third advisor.

Dr. E.A. Quinn

Third Advisor's Department

Recommended citation.

Klein, Kate, "Humanitarianism and the Anthropology of Hunger" (2013). Undergraduate Theses—Unrestricted . 9.

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Causes and Solutions to World Hunger Thesis Defense

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  • 03 May 2024

Hunger on campus: why US PhD students are fighting over food

  • Laurie Udesky 0

Laurie Udesky is a freelance journalist in San Francisco, California.

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You have full access to this article via your institution.

Low-angle view of a person sorting through food donations for the Open Seat, an on-campus food pantry

An on-campus food pantry at the University of Wisconsin–Madison helps students with insufficient money for food. Credit: M. P. King/Wisconsin State Journal/AP/Alamy

Jen Cruz’s life as a PhD student is a world away from her childhood. Although not a member of the tribe, she grew up on Yakama Indian reservation land in Wapato, Washington.

Cruz, a first-generation university student, remembers how families, including hers, would often work for local farmers or fishers in exchange for food to supplement the food stamps and free school lunches that most people on the reservation relied on to get by.

world hunger thesis

Collection: Career resources for PhD students

But once at university, Cruz found that the give and take and sense of community that had helped people to survive just didn’t exist on campus. She relied on food stamps issued by the state during her master’s degree in public health at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. “I also took out loans and worked several jobs,” she says. “When the stamps ran out, I’d go to the food pantry.” These are distribution centres where people facing hunger can receive donated food, akin to food banks in other parts of the world.

Now four years into a PhD in social epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts, Cruz no longer thinks of herself as food insecure — unable to count on having enough food to be active and healthy — but things are still tight in a city where the cost of living requires a single adult to earn US$62,500 annually to support themselves.

In addition to working full time on her dissertation, she does 20 hours a week as a researcher for a faculty-member colleague, and also teaches to supplement her $37,000 stipend (Harvard will be raising PhD student stipends to a minimum of $50,000 in July). She shops at a discount farmers’ market where she can buy a week’s worth of produce for $10, and she shares accommodation with two other people to minimize housing costs.

Hard evidence

A study published in February revealed that food insecurity at Harvard is not just anecdotal ( N. M. Hammad and C. W. Leung JAMA Netw. Open 7 , e2356894; 2024 ). Commissioned by the dean’s office at Harvard’s School of Public Health, the survey found that 17% of the 1,287 graduate students who responded and 13% of the 458 postdoctoral responders had experienced food insecurity — figures that were on a par with or exceeded those for the general US population (13%).

Respondents reported having to skip meals, cut down their portions and fill up on foods with little nutritional value. Some also reported feeling anxious that they wouldn’t have enough to eat. Food insecurity also correlated with respondents feeling that their housing was at risk because of difficulties with rent or mortgage payments

Widespread issue

The struggle to find enough food is a problem not just at Harvard. Food insecurity on campus is widespread in the United States and elsewhere, with one study reporting that 42% of US undergraduate students on average are unable to feed themselves what they need to stay healthy ( B. Ellison et al. Food Policy 102 , 102031; 2021 ). To lessen the struggle faced by hungry students, some 750 campuses across the United States have set up food pantries. Research is lacking on food-access issues affecting UK graduate students and postdocs, but a study of 161 UK universities found that food insecurity was “off the scales”, says developmental psychologist Greta Defeyter, who led the work, which is yet to be published. It affected 57% of first-year undergraduate and foundation-year students.

world hunger thesis

Postdocs celebrate 24% pay boost in one of the world’s most expensive cities

Food insecurity affected 20% of PhD students, “which is much higher than the UK average” of 6–10% of the general population, says Defeyter, who directs the Healthy Living Lab, a food-poverty research group based at Northumbria University in Newcastle.

A 2016 report about food insecurity at the ten campuses of the University of California (UC) system found that 25% of graduate students and 48% of undergraduates didn’t have enough to eat (see ).

“We started producing the data to go to the state and say, we have a problem and we need to do something about it,” said Suzanna Martinez, a health-behaviour epidemiologist at UC San Francisco. Martinez led the research in her previous role at the university’s Nutrition Policy Institute in Oakland, California. “Since 2016, the UC system has published updates on food insecurity and actions to address it on its campuses,” she adds. These reports can be accessed online through the university’s Basic Needs Initiative (see ).

Social stigma

As well as lowering academic performance and increasing the risk of depression, food insecurity is associated with social stigma.

Gwen Chodur, now a postdoc in nutritional biology at UC Santa Cruz, was a key player in the fight for food security while a graduate student in nutrition at the UC Davis. Chodur’s monthly pay in 2016, her first year as a graduate student, was just under $1,700. A first-generation university student who hailed from ‘coal country’ in Pennsylvania, she often skipped lunch as an undergraduate at Pennsylvania State University in University Park. Despite taking on a couple of jobs while there, she says, “I was always one unanticipated expense away from not being able to finish my degree.”

When she started at UC Davis in September 2016, she explains, she didn’t get her first cheque until November, which forced her to get creative with dried beans and rice, or stock up on cans of spaghetti hoops for dinner. “It was very clear to me that higher education wasn’t designed for students like me, and that was very obvious from the first day that I set foot on campus,” she says of the deep-seated sense of impostor syndrome she felt.

world hunger thesis

PhD students face cash crisis with wages that don’t cover living costs

Chodur soon learnt that many other graduate students had similar struggles. Bolstered by this knowledge, she joined others to launch a separate food pantry, located in the Graduate Student Association office, for colleagues who felt uncomfortable going to the one on campus. “They were saying things like, ‘If I see my students there, that could undermine my authority in the classroom and it would be embarrassing,’” says Chodur.

Safyer McKenzie-Sampson spoke out about the location of the weekly free food market at UC San Francisco. McKenzie-Sampson, who was then a PhD student researching racism and adverse maternal health outcomes in Black communities, says having access to the market was helpful after spending half of her pay on rent. But a return trip to the food market took one hour from the Mission Bay campus, where she lived and worked. “There’d be a group of us with our big green bags collectively doing the walk of shame to the shuttle bus,” she says. Raising the issue repeatedly with her mentor resulted in a second food market opening at the Mission Bay Campus. “She was able to have the right conversations with the right people,” McKenzie-Sampson says.

Even so, McKenzie-Sampson still did not have enough to eat, and often had to track down free food provided at campus meetings. “I don’t know if you have heard of the example of ‘having sleep for dinner’. Well, there definitely were many nights when I had sleep for dinner,” says McKenzie-Sampson, who is now based at Stanford University in California, where she researches racism and ethnicity. She hails from Canada and, like other international students, would at that time have been ineligible for food stamps provided through the state version of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Legislation introduced in California in 2021 broadened eligibility for food stamps in the state’s undergraduates. But food insecurity in graduate students rose by 14 percentage points between 2021 and 2023, after a fall of 5 percentage points between 2016 and 2021.

“At the end of the day, it’s still the dollar amount that impacts graduate students,” says Martinez, noting that their stipends are too high for them to be eligible for food stamps.

Martinez, who advises on basic necessities operations on UC campuses, also attributes the jump to cost of attendance and increases in the cost of living. She says that the 2023 Basic Needs Initiative survey on food insecurity might have been done before pay hikes for graduate students, which took effect after a long-standing and ultimately successful strike over pay and conditions ended in December 2022. According to the university’s latest report on basic necessities, between 2020 and 2023, the US consumer price index rose by 19% and food prices ratcheted up by 24%.

Meanwhile, researchers at Harvard are in the next phase of investigating food insecurity on campus, taking a deeper dive into the details of how graduate students and postdocs are weathering it and what they need. Nour Hammad, a PhD student who researches public-health nutrition and is lead author of the study, says a food pantry is planned. The research continues, she adds, “to see how food insecurity impacts academic performance, their physical and mental health, their relationships — just their whole experience”.

Until recently, Cruz was part of those efforts as leader of the Harvard Chan Alliance for Low Income and First Generation Students Organization, an advocacy group that campaigns for better food access for students in need and serves more broadly as a support system. Group chats announce where on campus students can find free food — usually leftover pizza, sandwiches and fruit from meetings.

“I would say all of us PhD students have Tupperware containers at our desks, so if there is food, we can take extra home,” says Cruz. On the day she spoke to Nature , she had scored some cooked chicken breasts: “I was like, that’s going to be my protein for the week.”

Nature 629 , 489-490 (2024)


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