Malnutrition is a global problem. With population and consumption set to rise over the coming decades, achieving food security will require action on many fronts.
Over and under
Malnutrition includes both the over- and underconsumption of calories. According to the World Health Organization, nearly 40% of Oceania’s population is obese. The highest rates of undernutrition are in Africa and the Caribbean, where around 20% of people fail to get enough calories.
Worldwide, calorie supply is 23% higher than required. Although at a regional level there is more than enough food available, significant variation exists at the national level — Haiti and the Central African Republic, for instance, both have 13% deficits. And availability is no guarantee of food security. Access to food, which is determined by factors such as location, affordability and gender, also has a part to play.
Globally, cereals are the biggest source of energy. In Asia, they made up around 50% of the region’s daily energy supply in 2013. Sugar and fats made up the biggest share of North America’s and Oceania’s daily energy supply.
Spread it around
Many countries do not have enough land or water resources to feed their population and have to rely on potentially volatile global trade markets. In 2010, around 80% of countries were net importers of cereals. Caribbean nations are especially dependent on imports, whereas South American and European countries are the biggest net exporters.
Food crop production increased significantly in the past half century. The quantity of cereals grown for human consumption has more than tripled since 1961, while cultivation of vegetables and melons has increased nearly fivefold.
Doing more with more
The growth in global production has been driven more by rising yields than by increases in land used. This varies regionally, however. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, cropland expansion has had the larger impact.
Stopping the waste
Globally, most pre-household food waste is fresh produce. As the population has grown, so has the amount of waste. It is now 74% higher than it was 30 years ago. The only region to significantly reduce waste is Europe, where it has almost halved since 1987.
Sources: Food and Agricultural Organization and World Health Organization
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Gould, J. Nutrition: A world of insecurity. Nature 544, S6–S7 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/544S6a