Hunger and Poverty in Asia

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Although Africa is frequently presented as the center of world hunger, Asia has always had more hungry people, and more malnourished children, because Asia has so many more people. Globally, 64% of all malnourished children live in Asia (FAO, 2017). Additionally, 519.6 million adults and children in Asia consume too few calories, which accounts for approximately 12% of the total population of Asia (FAO, 2017).

However, there has been progress in Asia. For example, in 2017, the Global Hunger Index (GHI) score for South Asia decreased by 15.4 points from its 1992 score. Additionally, India has made progress in decreasing its child stunting rate. India has a very large population size, so changes there have a strong influence on Southern Asia’s GHI score.

Micronutrient deficiencies are the result of inadequate amounts of essential vitamins and minerals in the diet. This is different from protein-energy malnutrition, which is the result of inadequate calories in the diet. Three of the most significant micronutrient deficiencies in the developing world are vitamin A deficiency, zinc deficiency, and iron deficiency (which is usually called anemia). Vitamin A deficiency is associated with blindness, child mortality, and maternal mortality. In South Asia, 44-50% preschool aged children have severe vitamin A deficiency.

Zinc deficiency is a major risk factor for morbidity and mortality. Nearly 800,000 deaths per year among children under five years of age are the result of zinc deficiency. Zinc deficiency increases mortality associated with infections, and in early pregnancy has been associated with complications in pregnancy outcomes at later stages.

Anemia a condition characterized by a lack of hemoglobin (iron-bearing molecules) in the bloodstream. Hemoglobin is necessary to carry oxygen to cells throughout the body. Anemia is often caused by an inadequate consumption of iron from the diet. Iron deficient anemia is known to slow brain development in children and is a key predictor of morbidity and mortality. In pregnancy, anemia can increase the risk of maternal and child mortality, complications during childbirth, and poor fetal development.

Malnutrition is defined as any disorder of nutrition. It may result from an unbalanced, insufficient, or excessive diet, or from impaired absorption, assimilation, or use of foods. Overnutrition, a condition of excess nutrient and energy intake over time, may be regarded as a form of malnutrition when it leads to morbid obesity. Undernutrition is a condition of malnutrition caused by an inadequate food supply or an inability to use the nutrients in food.

There are a number of causes of malnutrition in Asia. In many parts of Asia, poor and insufficient sanitation and hygiene practices can increase the spread of disease and infection, causing up to 50% of all child malnourishment. Across Asia, the availability of highly processed foods has increased drastically. Consumption of these processed foods by adults and children has led to the rise of overnutrition, which is a cause of obesity. In several Asian countries, women do not have access to the same education, healthcare, or information technology as men.

  • 1. Approximately what percentage of the total population of Asia does not consume enough calories daily?
  • 2. What was the point difference between the 2017 Global Hunger Index score when compared to the 1992 Global Hunger Index score?
  • 3. Which micronutrient deficiency is associated with blindness, child mortality and maternal mortality?
  • 4. What factor(s) cause(s) malnutrition in Asia?
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