The Economist writes that “global hunger is on the wane but it is still hampering the growth of people, and of economies.”
What hungry people need first and foremost is more food. But they also need better food. The most basic kind of malnutrition is called protein energy deficiency. In other words, a diet that is lacking in energy because of a deficit in all the major macronutrientssuch as carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Typically, though, such a diet will also be deficient in many micronutrients. As a consequence many lives are blighted for want of tiny amounts of iodine, iron, vitamin A and zinc. Micronutrient deficiencies are ranked eighth among the top ten risks to health worldwide by the WHO.
Many of the things that would ease hunger are worth doing anyway. Policies that promote economic growth or better education would be desirable even if they had no impact on nutrition. Democracy and freedom of speech are attractive in and of themselves. But it is also worth noting that rich, well-educated countries never go hungry, and that no democratic country with a free press, no matter how poor it may be, has ever suffered a famine. Unfettered reporters provide early warnings, and accountable governments know they have to respond to emergencies. The recent crushing of the independent media in Zimbabwe is one reason why the WFP expects trouble this year.
In other places, the battle against hunger is steadily being won. Better nutrition is making people cleverer and more energetic, which will help them grow more prosperous. And when they eventually join the ranks of the well off, they can start fretting about growing too fat.