Where Do the World’s Hungriest People Live? Not Where You Think

If you were tasked to end hunger and malnutrition in the world, you might first ask: Where do such vulnerable people live? It may be a surprise that the majority of the world’s hungry and malnourished live in large Middle Income Countries (MICs), some of which are global economic powerhouses. These countries are hosts to the Missing Middle, or vulnerable populations that tend not to either benefit from or contribute to the rapid economic growth that is characteristic of their countries.

To shine a spotlight on this issue, I co-wrote a chapter on the urgent need to find solutions for the Missing Middle in the International Food Policy Research Institute’s (IFPRI) 2014/2015 Global Food Policy Report with Ertharin Cousin, Executive Director of the World Food Programme. We focused on five MICs: Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, and Mexico which, despite their impressive progress in reducing poverty, hunger, and malnutrition, are still home to 363 million hungry people.

Further, undernutrition remains a problem in these countries: about half the children in India and one-third in Indonesia are stunted, and Mexico and China have yet to eliminate undernutrition. And alarmingly, overweight and obesity are on the rise in China, India, and Indonesia. In Mexico and Brazil, the alarm has long since sounded, as the majority of adults are overweight. In Mexico, a third are obese.

I do not want to understate the great strides and concerted efforts these countries have made so far. Between 1990 and 2014, Brazil reduced hunger by almost two-thirds, and China and Indonesia by more than one-half. China and Brazil also greatly reduced child stunting in that time. Yet to really end poverty, hunger, and malnutrition for the poorest and most vulnerable, even more must be done.

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