UNITED NATIONS - The United Nations says more than 820 million people around the world are hungry, while at same time, obesity is hitting record levels.
A report released Monday by five U.N. agencies dealing with food, nutrition and health says that while hunger levels have mostly stabilized, more people around the world are anxious about where their family's next meal will come from.
"People that feel insecure insecure because they are in areas under conflict, insecure because they are in countries with high levels of inflation, insecure because they are very low paid that they will not have money to buy their food — this number reached 2 billion people around the world," José Graziano da Silva, director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said at the report's launch. "This is really a big, big number. We were surprised when we found this figure."
The report notes the highest hunger rates are in Africa and growing steadily in almost all parts of the subcontinent, where climate and conflict, economic slowdowns and downturns have driven more than 256 million people into a state of food insecurity.
In Asia, more than 500 million people, primarily in the southern part of the continent, are suffering from malnutrition. This sort of hunger has lasting impacts on its victims, especially children, who suffer from stunting and wasting.
"So the question is what are we going to do about it?" asked World Food Program Executive Director David Beasley. "Because if these were your little girls and your little boys, I guarantee you, you'd be doing everything you could to do something about it."
Beasley said the problem of world hunger is solvable, but is not achievable without ending war and conflicts, which consume a huge portion of the global economy that could be used for development.
Obesity a global epidemic
For the first time, the U.N. agencies were able to gather data on world obesity rates, which are skyrocketing.
"We have about 830 million obese people in the world," said the FAO's Graziano da Silva. "That's happening in most continents except Africa and Asia."
He said trends indicate that the numbers of overweight and obese people in Africa and Asia would soon exceed those who are hungry. Graziano da Silva said obesity rates are rising by 6.3% and 7.5% per year respectively in Africa and Asia, while the global average is 4.8%.
"It's really a global epidemic issue the way obesity is rising and how fast it is rising," Graziano da Silva added.
The cost of obesity is very high, some $2 trillion a year in related illnesses and other side effects.
Graziano da Silva urged better labeling of foods, reducing the levels of salt, fats and sugars in processed foods and restricting advertising for some products geared toward children. He noted healthy and fresh foods also need to be promoted and access to them needs to be increased for some populations.