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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Hunger: Over One Billion Under-Served

According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Association, we have reached a sad milestone. Over one billion people living on the planet are now hungry, a new record for the scourge of malnutrition. Due to the global economic crisis and persistently high food prices, one in six people are subsisting on less than 1,800 calories per day.

When we enter ‘1,800 calories’ into an internet search engine, we produce just under one million hits. However, it takes more patience than we have on supply to comb through the links in order to find just website referencing this threshold figure for inadequate diet - instead, these links appear to be mainly meal plans for dieting Westerners. As freedieting.com helpfully states: ‘1800 calories per day is about the lowest a man should go when aiming for fat loss.’

Presumably, in most of the developing world, there is not a lot of fat to spare. According to a study by a USDA economist, the average sub-Saharan African is consuming around 2,176 calories per day, compared to an average American’s 3,654. Whereas the typical Western diet showed a distribution of calories from varied food sources (18% of an American’s calories might come from sugar alone), the African derives 70% of his or her energy from grains and starchy root vegetables. More nutritious food is not available or is simply too expensive.

This study was based on 1995-97 statistics. Likely the data would be different today, reflecting an even more pronounced gap between developed and developing worlds. While body-conscious Westerners work on their self-control, over one billion people are already on the 1,800 calorie diet through no choice of their own.

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