How big a problem is hunger?

Published 9:30 am Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Many people who aren’t hungry probably wonder what the fuss is about hunger.

Many people probably don’t realize the size of the problem in the world today.

Many people who have noticed the problem may also think that it’s due to scarcity.

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Well, to address these folks and remind all of us, let me say this: Hunger is a problem. It is a big problem. It is a problem for the world. It is a problem for the United States of America. It is a problem for Lawrence County.

Interestingly enough, however, we are told that the problem is not scarcity.

The Institute for Food and Development Policy reported in 1998 that the world’s agricultural complex produced enough food for every person in the world to have 4.3 pounds of food per day.

According to the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization real per capita food production has increased since 1998 due to continuing technical and agricultural advances. Still, the problem remains.

To understand the complexity of the problem, one needs to understand the basic terms related to hunger. Consider these definitions.

Hunger: A condition in which people do not get enough food to provide the nutrients for active healthy lives.

Malnutrition: A condition resulting from inadequate consumption or excessive consumption of one or more nutrients that can impair physical and mental health, and cause or be the consequence of disease.

Undernutrition: A condition resulting from inadequate consumption of calories, protein and/or nutrients to meet the basic physical requirements for an active and healthy life.

Food Insecurity: A condition of uncertain availability of or ability to acquire safe, nutritious food in a socially acceptable way.

With these definitions in mind, take a look at the problem as pictured in the following statistics. Hunger around the world affects 923,000,000 (that’s million) people in a significant way.

For example, maternal and childhood malnutrition causes one third (1/3) of childhood deaths. Six million (6,000,000) children under the age of 5 die each year from hunger related causes.

Hunger and malnutrition in the general population kill ten million (10,000,000) people a year which breaks down to 25,000 per day or an astounding, one person every 5 seconds.

Figures show that around the world right now at least one person in seven suffers from hunger and hunger-related problems.

We live in one of the world’s wealthiest nations, so one would assume that things are not so grim here. This is true, but still we have significant problems involving hunger and nutrition.

In 2001, the number of Americans who were food insecure or hungry, or at risk of hunger, was 33.6 million. In 2007 that number rose to 46.2 million and with the current economic situation one can reasonably assume the number is even higher. In 2008, the Economic Research

Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that 3.9 percent of U.S. households experienced hunger. A total of 11.9 million people, including 3.7 million children, live in these homes and deal with the problem by skipping meals, eating too little or even going without food for a whole day or more.

In 2006, Feeding America, the nation’s largest network of food banks, reported that 25.3 million people came to them and agencies they serve for assistance.

Thirty six percent of these people were from working families who simply could not provide sufficient food. People in this situation also report having to make difficult decisions relative to their food procurement.

For instance, 42 percent report having to choose between paying for food or paying for utilities; 35 percent must choose between food or rent; 32 percent must choose between food and medications.

The national situation is disturbing, and the local environment is also noteworthy.

Last fall I attended a meeting in Jackson, Ohio sponsored by the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks. The information provided by this “Hunger Summit” was sobering as it relates to our area.

Eligibility for emergency food assistance is often established by having an income level at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Statistics presented at the meeting showed that 42.5 percent of people living in Lawrence County are eligible for assistance.

Further figures showed that in June, 2010, 21.1 percent were actually receiving assistance.

In June, 2011, 22.4 percent were receiving assistance, and in June, 2012, (this figure recently obtained from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services) 23.2 percent were receiving assistance.

In addition to these numbers, the statistics show that 32.3 percent of southeastern Ohio residents are experiencing food insecurity.

All these numbers expose the severity of the problem globally and locally:

Far too often they remain just numbers on a page. Next week I want to share with you some of the consequences of the nutritional shortfall for us as a community.

In the meantime remember this is Hunger Action Month. It’s time for us to do something about the problem.

In a future column I’ll present specific suggestions, but for now remember these words from James in his letter to the First Century church, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”

Please let us join in prayer for hunger and the hungry asking God to show us our role in helping those in need.


The Rev. Wayne E. Young is pastor at the First United Methodist Church, located at 101 N. Fifth St., in Ironton. He can be reached at (740) 532-1196.