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Food insecurity: not just a problem for developing countries

The problem of eating enough healthy food and finding the right food for your well-being is a global challenge which is very much a reality in the richest countries, including USA and countries in Europe.

Who said that there are no problems in the so-called developed countries in finding enough food? As set out in detail in the latest edition of Eating Planet, there are many factors which currently threaten food security, defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as “access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life”, on a global level and not just in the poorest countries.

The categories most at risk
The clearest example of this situation undoubtedly comes from the USA, where despite the general state of well-being, there is a significant number of people suffering from different types of malnutrition. This is also shown by a study recently published by the journal Population Health Management, demonstrating that over half of the patients in the study who were frequently admitted to hospital – more than 3 times over the previous year – did not have regular access to healthy food and even didn’t always have enough food in the house. The reasons which lead to these seemingly extreme circumstances are actually very common: those who suffer most from food insecurity are elderly people, people on low incomes or those who have difficulties going out to buy food and cook it or who are dependent on others (relatives, institutions or charities). Nevertheless, the results of this study are not entirely surprising given that back in 2014, according to data from USDA, around 15% of families in the USA claimed they had problems accessing food.

People in Europe eat more, but not better
The situation in Europe is not radically different. The General Overview of Food Insecurity 2015 focusing on Europe and Asia and published by experts from the FAO – the UN organisation in charge of food and agriculture – highlights the fact that in Europe and Central Asia, food insecurity has gradually evolved from being a problem of insufficient calories, to one of food quality, which is more subtle and difficult to identify. According to the data in the report, Eurasia achieved the goal of halving the incidences of hunger by 2015, reducing the number of undernourished people to under 5%. However, another problem remains, that of malnutrition, which affects the rich and poor countries in the region to a similar extent. Indeed, there has been an increase in the number of people suffering from micronutrient deficiencies with dangerous health consequences as well as those who are overweight or obese. “Both these conditions are common, even among children under 5 and may well have a major impact on the economies of these countries”, explain the FAO experts. They suggest that a better national food security programme should be designed, and that “not enough focus is given to the quality of people’s diets”.

Climate change and economic policies are making it harder for people to access food
Access to food is not simply a question of land productivity or personal income. Various sections of Eating Planet focus on the effects of climate change on productivity and the availability of food, but this on its own does not explain why the situation is so serious, even for the richest countries. Indeed, there are a range of other factors which need to be considered, such as the economic crisis which has altered families’ buying power and the balance of the markets. In some cases, this has led to dangerous speculation on prices, or conflicts in strategic areas of food production, which also create problem for the countries in those areas attempting to import their food provisions. However, some progress has been made in the field of food security. According to the FAO in the State of Food Insecurity in the World 2015, the number of people suffering from hunger has fallen to 795 million (216 million less compared to the period 1990/1992), but there is still much more work to be done.
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