What is Hunger

Everyone feels hungry on a daily basis. Most people are able to satisfy this craving and need. Even if not immediately, they can count on having a meal or snack within hours. This is not the type of hunger that Bread is concerned with.

People who suffer chronic hunger don’t have the option of eating when they are hungry. They do not get enough calories, essential nutrients, or both. People who are hungry have an ongoing problem with getting food to eat. They have a primary need — how to feed themselves and their children today and tomorrow. They have little energy for anything else.

It is commonly known that the cause of hunger in the world is not a shortage of food but rather the access to food. Photo: Laura Pohl/Bread for the World

Access and availability of food

It is commonly known that the cause of hunger in the world is not a shortage of food but rather access to food.

Some people are hungry because food is in short supply in their area and for a specific reason. It may be because they can’t afford to buy enough food. It may be both.

Some countries have a “hunger season” every year. It's when the previous harvest is gone and the next harvest is not yet ready. It can last as long as three or four months.

The U.S. doesn’t have that kind of a hunger season, but for many families, some weeks are hungrier than others. These usually come toward the end of the month, as families run short of food before they have money to buy more. People can’t simply decide to spend less on rent, but if necessary, they can spend less on food.

For many low-wage workers, retirees, people with disabilities, and their families, even careful planning cannot stretch the grocery budget throughout the month. Less expensive — and less nutritious — filler foods can keep children’s stomachs from growling, but they can’t provide what children need to grow and learn. Adults who are missing meals because they can’t afford to buy food can’t concentrate as well at work

People living with food insecurity lack a stable, reliable means of getting the meals they need. Photo: Bread for the World

What is food insecurity?

People in certain conditions, whether they live in the developing world or the United States, are extremely vulnerable to hunger. A month of bad weather for a farmer or an illness for a worker and a loss of income can mean less food and the prospect of hunger.

Food insecurity is the more formal term for this condition. People living with food insecurity lack a stable, reliable means of getting the meals they need.

Bread for the World works toward food security. This means an end not only to chronic hunger and malnutrition, but also to constant worry about where the next meal is coming from.

As the World Food Summit described it, food security is when “all people at all times… have access to sufficient safe and nutritious food… for an active and healthy life.”

Some events, like natural disasters or conflict, are unpreventable and cause hunger. But Bread wants to help end the persistent hunger that exists outside these events.

By far the most dangerous time to suffer from malnutrition is early childhood. Photo: Margie Nea/Bread for the World

What is malnutrition?

Addressing hunger is more than just giving people food and ensuring they have the needed calories. Quantity of food is important, but just as important is quality. When people don’t have the right nutritious food, it’s called malnutrition.

Malnutrition is being poorly nourished, whether undernourished or obese. It’s the result of a combination of problems. Among the most common are lack of protein and/or essential vitamins and minerals, frequent illnesses, inadequate health care, and unsafe water.

By far the most dangerous time to suffer from malnutrition is early childhood. Photo: Bread for the World

Developmental risks

By far the most dangerous time to suffer from malnutrition is early childhood. Getting insufficient nutrients during the 1,000-day period between pregnancy and age 2 causes damage among children that can last a lifetime.

A visible effect malnutrition in early childhood is stunting — a person who is much shorter than others. But the real problems for stunted children are not visible. People who didn’t get enough nutrients during the 1,000-day window:

  • face lifelong health problems
  • have more difficulty learning in school
  • earn less over their lifetime. They are less able to support their families.
  • have more difficulty bearing and raising healthy children. Their children are more likely to be malnourished in early childhood. And a harmful cycle continues.

Globally, one in four children is stunted. This is a staggering loss of human potential.

If malnutrition persists, it has high costs—in individuals, families, communities, and even whole nations. Photo: Laura Pohl/Bread for the World

High costs of hunger

The effects of hunger and food insecurity can generally be reversed in older children and adults. But too often, people continue to be food-insecure, so the effects continue as well. Because food is one of our most basic needs as humans, it can affect nearly everything we do. If malnutrition persists, it has high costs — in individuals, families, communities, and even whole nations. And the costs can be visible and invisible.

This is as true in the U.S. as elsewhere. U.S. losses from lower productivity and higher healthcare costs have been estimated in the billions of dollars. Developing countries can lose up to 11 percent of their economic output.

“Hidden hunger” is a term used to describe what happens when people don’t get enough vitamins and minerals.  Photo: Todd Post/Bread for the World

'Hidden hunger'

Hunger does not have to have visible signs to exist. “Hidden hunger” is a term used to describe what happens when people don’t get enough vitamins and minerals. Hidden hunger affects about 30 percent of the world’s population — over 2 billion people. It may be invisible, but it can still affect a person’s health and development.

"Jesus said...'you give them something to eat.'"

Matthew 14:16

Help Women Farmers. Infographic by Doug Puller / Bread for the World

Did you know?

Women are the primary agents the world relies on to end hunger. If they had the same access as men to tools, seeds, land titles, and financial services, then women could grow 30% more food. 

from our Resource Library

For Education

  • The 2016 Hunger Report by the Numbers

    Each year since 2008, the number of food-insecure people in the United States has hovered between 48 million and 50 million, approximately one in six people in the country.

    Food insecurity increases, by nearly 50 percent, a person’s chances of becoming a high-cost user of healthcare...

  • Informe 2016, en cifras

    Cada año desde el 2008, el número de personas que padecen inseguridad alimentaria en los Estados Unidos se ha mantenido entre 48 y 50 millones, lo que supone aproximadamente 1 de cada 6 personas en el país. 

    La inseguridad alimentaria aumenta la probabilidad de ser un usuario de servicios...

  • The Cost of Hunger

    Last year hunger and food insecurity cost the U.S. $160 billion in health expenditures.

For Faith

  • Interfaith Religious Leaders’ Pledge to End Hunger

    A wide array of the nation’s faith leaders have come together on the eve of Pope Francis’ arrival in the United States to commit ourselves to encourage our communities to work for the end of hunger by 2030 and, toward that end, for a shift in U.S. national priorities.

    We are deeply pleased...

  • Bread for the World Sunday

    Bread for the World Sunday is an opportunity for your church or community of faith to join with others — in thousands of churches across the country — in living out God's vision of a world without hunger. Through our prayers for an end to hunger, letters, and phone calls to our nation's leaders...

  • The Bible and Immigration Reform

    A brief examination of the biblical approach to advocacy on immigration reform.

    Includes an introduction to the issue, a Scriptural reflection, practical actions you can take, and a prayer.

For Advocacy

  • Guía de Acción Cívica

    Provee una explicación en gran parte seglar, de cómo Pan para el Mundo lleva a cabo su abogacía ante el Congreso de los Estados Unidos. Explica el proceso legislativo a nivel federal, y cómo los activistas de Pan, como votantes por sus representantes federales, pueden ser partícipes en éste...

  • La Base Bíblica para Abogar con el Propósito de Erradicar el Hambre

    Este folleto presenta los temas generales de la Biblia que guían los objetivos de Pan para el Mundo en sus esfuerzos para acabar con el hambre. Además de los versículos bíblicos aquí citados, hay muchas otras referencias a los pobres y hambrientos en la Biblia, y Jesús habló muchas veces acerca...

  • 2016 Elections Survey

    Bread for the World commissioned The Mellman Group and Eleison LLC to survey 1,000 voters on the issue of hunger and the 2016 elections. This fact sheet provides the main findings of that survey.

    Activists engaged in the election may want to print out and photocopy this fact sheet as they...


Vote to End Hunger

February 5, 2016


From the Blog