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essay on death by hunger

Starving children during the famine (right) ; Soviet Union’s dictator, Joseph Stalin (left).  CPA Media-Pictures from History/The Granger Collection (Stalin); Rue des Archives/The Granger Collection (children)

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‘Death by Hunger’

A human-made famine in ukraine in the 1930s sheds light on russia-ukraine relations today.

The soil in Ukraine is some of the most fertile anywhere—so fertile that the country is sometimes known as “the breadbasket of Europe” for its vast fields of grain. But in 1932 and 1933, millions of people in this region known for producing so much of the world’s food were dying in the streets of starvation. 

This catastrophic famine—known in Ukraine as the Holodomor , or “death by hunger”—wasn’t caused by blight or drought, but by government policy under the rule of the Soviet Union’s dictator at the time, Joseph Stalin.

Aiming to crush Ukrainian independence and transform the Soviet Union into an industrial power, Stalin forced millions of Ukrainian peasant farmers onto state-run collective farms, punishing resistance to his harsh measures by leaving the population without enough food to survive.

The soil in Ukraine is some of the most fertile anywhere. In fact, the country is sometimes known as “the breadbasket of Europe” for its vast fields of grain. But in 1932 and 1933, millions of people in this region known for producing so much of the world’s food were dying in the streets of starvation.

This deadly famine is known in Ukraine as the Holodomor , or “death by hunger.” It wasn’t caused by a plague or drought. Instead, it happened because of a government policy under the rule of the Soviet Union’s dictator at the time, Joseph Stalin.

Stalin forced millions of Ukrainian peasant farmers onto state-run collective farms. He did so as part of his plan to crush Ukrainian independence and make the Soviet Union an industrial power. Stalin punished resistance to his harsh measures by leaving the population without enough food to survive.

Authorities tore through villages and homes to take away grain and seeds.

The result was a horrific mass starvation, one that many historians have called a genocide—which left more than 4 million Ukrainians dead.

“The Soviet assault on the peasantry, and on the Ukrainian nation, . . . was one of the largest and most devastating events in modern history,” historian Robert Conquest told members of Congress in 1986. He added that “a great effort was put into denying or concealing the facts.” 

Now, 90 years later, the tragedy still reverberates throughout Ukraine. It’s seen today in the fierce resistance Ukrainians have shown to Russia’s recent invasion.

The result was a horrific mass starvation. It left more than 4 million Ukrainians dead. Many historians have called it a genocide.

“The Soviet assault on the peasantry, and on the Ukrainian nation, . . . was one of the largest and most devastating events in modern history,” historian Robert Conquest told members of Congress in 1986. He added that “a great effort was put into denying or concealing the facts.”

Now, 90 years later, the tragedy still strikes a chord throughout Ukraine. It’s seen today in the bold resistance Ukrainians have shown to Russia’s recent invasion.

Jim McMahon

The Fight for Independence

Ukraine, a country about the size of Texas, sits to the west of Russia (see map, above) . In the late 18th century, the land that makes up modern-day Ukraine was split between the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires. That lasted until 1917, when, in the aftermath of World War I and the collapse of the Russian Empire, Ukraine became an independent nation.

But Ukraine’s independence was short-lived. In 1922, most of Ukraine was forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union, which would comprise modern-day Russia and 14 other republics. The newly established communist state sought to control all spheres of life within its borders, including government ownership of businesses and absolute control over the press.

When Stalin rose to power in the Communist Party in the 1920s, he set out to create a modern superpower, no matter the cost. 

Ukraine sits to the west of Russia. The country is about the size of Texas (see map, above) . In the late 18th century, the land that makes up modern-day Ukraine was split between the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires. That lasted until 1917. In the aftermath of World War I and the collapse of the Russian Empire, Ukraine became an independent nation.

But Ukraine’s independence was short-lived. In 1922, the Soviet Union took control over most of Ukraine. The newly established communist state included modern-day Russia and 14 other republics. It sought to control all parts of life within its borders. That included government ownership of businesses and complete control over the press.

Stalin rose to power in the Communist Party in the 1920s. During his rise, he set out to create a modern superpower, no matter the cost.

Public Domain via Wikipedia

Crops grown by peasant farmers in Ukraine are seized by Soviet authorities in 1932.

“We are fifty or a hundred years behind the advanced countries,” he said in a 1931 speech. “We must make good this distance in ten years. Either we do it, or they crush us.”

Stalin instituted a series of five-year plans for the Soviet state, the first of which was aimed at collectivizing agriculture—combining the millions of small farms owned by individual peasants into large farms owned and run by the state.

But millions of independent small-scale farmers in Ukraine resisted collectivization. Some slaughtered cattle, destroyed machinery, and even burned their land to prevent the government from seizing their farms.

Stalin meanwhile deemed the wealthier farmers, known as kulaks, “sworn enemies of the collective-farm movement.” He had them rounded up and imprisoned, deported, or even executed. Any farmer caught resisting collectivization was labeled a kulak and was punished as such.

Stalin created a series of five-year plans for the Soviet state. The first one aimed to take full control of agriculture. Stalin set out to combine the millions of small farms owned by individual peasants into large farms owned and run by the state.

But millions of independent small-scale farmers in Ukraine resisted the plan. Some killed cattle, destroyed machinery, and even burned their land. They aimed to prevent the government from taking control of their farms.

The wealthier farmers were known as kulaks . Stalin deemed them “sworn enemies of the collective-farm movement.” He had them rounded up and imprisoned, deported, or even executed. Any farmer caught resisting Stalin’s plan was labeled a kulak and was punished as such.

Historic Images/Alamy Stock Photo

A propaganda photo of child collective farm workers staged by the Communist Party in 1933

Cracking Down on Ukraine

Stalin, historians say, saw the idea of Ukrainian independence as a challenge to the success of the Soviet state. Fearful that a peasant uprising in Ukraine could thwart his master plan, he targeted the region. 

First, in 1932, he imposed impossibly high grain collection quotas on Ukrainian villages, and Soviet officials confiscated all the wheat, barley, and other types of grain that were grown. The crops were used to feed other parts of the Soviet Union and also exported to other countries, leaving Ukrainians with little or nothing to eat.

New laws made stealing grain from a collective farm punishable by execution, and authorities tore through villages and even individual homes to confiscate any hidden grain and seeds.  

Oleksandra Radchenko, a teacher in the Kharkiv region, kept a diary to record the horror as it unfolded around her.

“Hunger, an artificial famine, is taking on a monstrous character,” she wrote on April 5, 1932. “Why are they taking the last grain of bread? No one understands why, and they continue to take everything down to the last kernel.”

Historians say that Stalin saw the idea of Ukrainian independence as a challenge to the success of the Soviet state. He was fearful that a peasant uprising in Ukraine could keep him from achieving his master plan. That’s why he targeted the region.

First, in 1932, he put impossibly high grain collection quotas in place. Soviet officials went through Ukrainian villages and took all the wheat, barley, and other types of grain that were grown. The crops were used to feed other parts of the Soviet Union and also exported to other countries. That left Ukrainians with little or nothing to eat.

New laws made stealing grain from a collective farm punishable by execution. Authorities also tore through villages and even individual homes to take any hidden grain and seeds.

Oleksandra Radchenko was a teacher in the Kharkiv region. She kept a diary to record the horror as it unfolded around her.

Some farmers and entire villages were blacklisted and cut off from the outside world, making it nearly impossible to get food. A cordon around Ukraine’s border prevented starving citizens from fleeing the country to beg for something to eat. 

As Ukrainians labored to grow food for other parts of the Soviet Union—and even countries abroad—they were dying of starvation at home. In 1932, the Soviet state extracted more than 4 million tons of grain from Ukraine, enough to feed at least 12 million people for a year, according to the University of Minnesota’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies.

Hungry enough to eat whatever they could get their hands on, Ukrainians consumed mice, dogs, rats, and tree bark. According to eyewitness accounts, some parents, crazed with hunger and driven to desperation, killed and ate their own children.

“Children are being kidnapped,” Radchenko wrote in January 1933, “and sausage made from human meat is being sold.”

Some farmers and entire villages got cut off from the outside world. That made it nearly impossible for them to get food. Soviet troops stationed around Ukraine’s border kept starving citizens from fleeing the country to beg for something to eat.

As Ukrainians worked to grow food for other parts of the Soviet Union and other countries, they were dying of starvation. In 1932, the Soviet state took more than 4 million tons of grain from Ukraine. That was enough to feed at least 12 million people for a year, according to the University of Minnesota’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies.

The hunger pushed Ukrainians to eat whatever they could get their hands on. They ate mice, dogs, rats, and tree bark. According to eyewitness accounts, some parents even killed and ate their own children.

By the Numbers

NUMBER of deaths per day in Ukraine during the height of the famine

NUMBER  of deaths per day in Ukraine during the height of the famine

PERCENTAGE of Ukrainian population that died in the famine

PERCENTAGE  of Ukrainian population that died in the famine

NUMBER of peasant farms that were forcibly combined into collectives 

NUMBER  of peasant farms that were forcibly combined into collectives 

SOURCE: Holodomor Research and Education Consortium

By spring, the carnage was all around. Miron Dolot, a survivor from the village of Cherkasy, later recalled seeing all the bodies of the dead.   

“Starvation in our village now reached a point at which death was a desirable relief,” he wrote in his 1985 book,  Execution by Hunger . “As the snow slowly melted away, human corpses were exposed to view everywhere: in backyards, on roads, in fields.”

By the following fall, the death toll in Ukraine had created such labor shortages that Stalin eased up on collections, resettling peasants from elsewhere in the Soviet Union to work on the collective farms, and effectively ending the famine.

At the time, it was illegal to even mention the famine. The Soviet Union altered statistics to cover up true death tolls and refused international aid, historians say. And the foreign press was barred from visiting the region.

By spring, death was all around. Miron Dolot was a survivor from the village of Cherkasy. He later recalled seeing all the bodies of the dead.

“Starvation in our village now reached a point at which death was a desirable relief,” he wrote in his 1985 book, Execution by Hunger . “As the snow slowly melted away, human corpses were exposed to view everywhere: in backyards, on roads, in fields.”

By the following fall, the death toll in Ukraine had created huge labor shortages. That led Stalin to ease collections and resettle peasants from elsewhere in the Soviet Union to work on the collective farms. These moves helped end the famine.

At the time, it was illegal to even mention the famine. The Soviet Union changed statistics to cover up true death tolls and refused international aid, historians say. And the foreign press was barred from visiting the region.

Mstyslav Chernov/AP Images

Russian invasion: A civilian in Mariupol, Ukraine, stands outside a shelled hospital in March.

Echoes of the Past

But even after years of silencing, the Holodomor is a major part of Ukrainian collective consciousness today. Memories of the event have been told through the generations.

“My grandfather was starved during Holodomor,” said 26-year-old Olya, of Ivano-Frankivsk in western Ukraine, after Russia invaded her country on February 24. “My grandmother was jailed in 1949 for aiding people fighting for Ukrainian independence. They never gave up and are the only reason I was born free.” 

But with the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine ordered by President Vladimir Putin, Ukraine’s freedom once again hangs in the balance. Historians see similarities between the 1932-33 famine and the Russia invasion.

But even after years of silencing, the Holodomor is etched into the minds of Ukrainians today. Memories of the event have been told through the generations.

“My grandfather was starved during Holodomor,” said 26-year-old Olya, of Ivano-Frankivsk in western Ukraine, after Russia invaded her country on February 24. “My grandmother was jailed in 1949 for aiding people fighting for Ukrainian independence. They never gave up and are the only reason I was born free.”

‘My grandfather was starved during Holodomor.’

“Putin, like Stalin, sees Ukrainian sovereignty as an existential threat to himself,” says historian Anne Applebaum, author of Red Famine . “I see a parallel in the way that Moscow has seen Kyiv [Ukraine’s capital] for a really long time.”

In the recent invasion, Russian forces have bombed hospitals, malls, schools, and homes. They’ve laid siege to entire cities. They’ve targeted civilians, with thousands of Ukrainians killed and millions forced to flee their country.

These attacks, historians say, carry echoes of the last attempt to erase Ukrainian independence, not with mass starvation but with bombs. Applebaum says memories of the famine fuel Ukrainians to fiercely resist today’s Russian aggression.

“One of the reasons Ukrainians are fighting so hard today,” says Applebaum, “is because they remember it.”

In the recent invasion, Russian forces have bombed hospitals, malls, schools, and homes. They’ve stormed into entire cities, where they’ve targeted civilians and killed thousands of Ukrainians. The conflict has forced millions to flee their country.

Historians say that these attacks are like the last attempt to erase Ukrainian independence. But instead of using mass starvation, Russia has turned to bombs. Applebaum says memories of the famine fuel Ukrainians to bravely resist today’s Russian aggression.

KEY DATES Ukraine & Russia

1772-95: division of poland.

The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth is divided in a series of partitions. Much of present-day Ukraine is incorporated into the Russian Empire. 

1918: Independence

After the Russian Empire collapses in 1917, Ukraine declares independence. Fighting ensues among countries seeking control of Ukraine. 

Tow/Slava Katamidze Collection/Getty Images

A Red Army battalion parades through Kharkiv, Ukraine, 1920.

1922: The Soviet Union

Russia’s Red Army seizes control of much of Ukraine, and its territory is forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union.

1932-33: Ukrainian Famine

Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin collectivizes farms, laying the groundwork for a famine that kills millions of Ukrainians.  

1991: Soviet Union’s Collapse

Popular uprisings sweep away Communist regimes in much of Eastern Europe, and the Soviet Union disbands. Ukraine votes to become an independent country and begins transitioning to a market economy. 

Yuri Kadobnov/AFP via Getty Images

President Vladimir Putin

2014: Annexation of Crimea 

Russia invades and seizes the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, which Russian President Vladimir Putin claims is part of his country. This ramps up tensions between Russia and Ukraine.

TODAY: Invasion of Ukraine 

Putin launches a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24. Ukrainians mount fierce resistance, but many thousands die in the first weeks of the war and millions of refugees flee. 

Ending hunger

Ending world hunger is one of the greatest challenges of our times. Across the globe, up to 783 million people do not have enough food  and 47 million people in 54 countries are at 'emergency' or worse levels of hunger . Parts of Yemen, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Nigeria may be close to, or are already in, the grip of famine. 

The consequence of diets poor in vitamins, minerals and other nutrients are affecting the health and life prospects of millions more, and casting a shadow over the future of communities and entire countries.  

Although enough food is produced to feed everyone on this planet, the goal of a world with zero hunger , as set out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and specifically in  Sustainable Development Goal 2 , remains hugely challenging due to a toxic cocktail of conflict, climate change, disasters and structural poverty and inequality . Over the past two years, the socioeconomic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic have further exacerbated global hunger by pushing millions of vulnerable people into greater food insecurity and driving up the costs of reaching people in need. WFP works on various activities in seeking solutions to hunger.

World hunger: causes and solutions

60 percent of the world’s hungry people live in zones affected by conflict, which is the main driver in 8 out of 10 of the worst hunger crises (as in the case of Yemen, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Syria, for example).

What we are doing 

Food and nutrition assistance

Syria, Aleppo. Children join their parents in line, or are sent to collect bread alone before going to school. Photo: WFP/Hussam Al Saleh

WFP brings life-saving food and nutrition assistance to people trapped or displaced by fighting, wherever they are. With the help of local partners, we reach those in need even in the most remote areas, using all-terrain vehicles and dropping food from planes when all other avenues are closed.

Our assistance can help create pathways to peace, as recognized in the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to WFP in 2020.

Prospects for peace

Mitib Ibrahim (L) and Mohammed Jama'a (R) are from different tribes and got to know each other working together on the rehabilitation of an irrigation canal in Ramadi. Photo: WFP/David Orr

Preliminary findings from a joint research study with the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute indicated that WFP’s work to solve world hunger contributed to improving prospects for peace. It did this by enhancing access to contested natural resources, boosting social cohesion and resolving grievances within and between communities, while increasing opportunities and trust between people and government through strengthening state accountability and service delivery. The study focused on El Salvador, Iraq, Kyrgyzstan and Mali.

Climate change

The impacts of the climate crisis such as floods, drought or heatwaves affect the lives and livelihoods of millions of people, aggravating poverty, world hunger and social tensions. WFP helps governments and communities to adopt to the changing climate and protect themselves and their food security from climate impacts.

What we are doing

Anticipatory action

WFP staff explain the registration process to the members of Irosin community who are participating in the forecast-based financing project. Photo: WFP Philippines/Arete

WFP’s Anticipatory Action programme uses early warning systems to trigger humanitarian action before extreme weather events impact communities, allowing them to protect themselves, their homes, livestock and buy food and other essential items. 

Climate-smart energy solutions

Rwanda. School cook, Felicien Rwatangaro. Photo: WFP/Daniel Kibsgaard

To ensure people can cook and consume food safely, WFP facilitates access to modern cooking solutions such as gas stoves, mini-gasifiers or electric pressure cookers. WFP also strives to empower smallholder farmers through the distribution of sustainable energy equipment and services that boost food production, processing and preservation.

When an earthquake, cyclone, a hurricane or other disaster strikes, WFP is a first responder, bringing food and other life-saving assistance to populations that have lost everything.

Logistics Officers check personal protective equipment (PPE) being offloaded at the temperature controlled warehouse in Lologo, Juba. Photo: WFP/Giulio d'Adamo

As the leader of the inter-agency Logistics Cluster , WFP provides coordination and information management in the response to large-scale disasters.


Haiti, Port au Prince. Telecommunications mast. Photo: WFP/Rein Skullerud

WFP leads the Emergency Telecommunications Cluster , which provides life-saving connectivity in emergency situations. WFP’s Fast IT and Telecommunications Emergency and Support Team of responders (FITTEST) is ready to deploy anywhere in the world to establish and restore communications and information technology networks.

Geospatial analyses

Geospatial analysis. GIS image.

Targeted geospatial analyses show the immediate impact of natural disasters and allow for a faster response matched to needs. Our Geographic Information Systems tools such as ADAM (Automatic Disaster Analysis & Mapping) provide 24/7 mapping of earthquakes and tropical cyclones.

Inequality drives global hunger by limiting people's opportunities and increasing levels of hunger. Increasing access to employment, finance and markets, for example, can lift people out of poverty very quickly, increasing their productivity and spending power, and stimulating local markets.

Food assistance for assets

Kakhobwe's irrigation scheme, under DFID funded Prosper programme in Malawi. Photo: WFP/Badre Bahaji

WFP’s Food Assistance for Assets programme involves people working on community projects such as restoring unproductive land, in return for cash or food. The private sector-focused Farm to Market Alliance connects smallholders to markets and helps them diversify their crops and increase their business potential.

Cash transfers

Malawi. WFP distributing cash to urban and rural households affected by climate shocks and economic effects of COVID-19. Photo: WFP/Badre Bahaji

Where markets and financial systems are functioning, WFP provides assistance in cash. Whether in the form of bank notes, vouchers, debit cards, e-money or mobile money, cash transfers allow people to make choices that improve their food security and nutrition, and inject cash into the local economy.

Social safety nets

Local school authorities and WFP distribute Take-Home Rations (THR) among school children and their parents in La Guajira department, Colombia. Photo: WFP/Miller Choles

WFP supports governments in strengthening the social safety nets they have in place to protect their citizens from poverty, inequality and  hunger. We also work to enhance the ability of these systems to respond to shocks such as disasters or mass population displacements.

Poor storage facilities in farms lead to pest infestations and mould ruining crops. Lack of access to technology and markets means many farmers are forced to watch their crops rot in fields, as the labour and financial investment required to harvest them is often unavailable.

Zero post-harvest losses

Malawi. Stop the Waste. Storing food in the warehouse. Photo: WFP/Badre Bahaji

WFP’s Zero Post-Harvest Losses project teaches smallholder farmers how to use improved post-harvest handling methods, combined with simple but effective hermetic storage equipment to protect crops against insects, rodents, mould and moisture.

The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed millions more people into hunger by disrupting production, trade and livelihoods, putting millions out of work.

Common services

UNHRD Panama is preparing to dispatch consignments of Personal protective equipment (PPE) items for WHO. Photo: WFP/Elio Rujano

WFP set up Common Services – global passenger and cargo movement services – allowing humanitarian staff and food and health supplies to reach vulnerable people around the world, who would otherwise be cut off from support when they needed it most.

Food and cash assistance

WFP food card helps 800 LGBTI households through the pandemic. Photo: WFP/Hetze Tosta

To address the increased needs created by the socioeconomic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, WFP has stepped up its cash and food assistance, and supported governments in strengthening their own social safety nets.

Fighting famine

essay on death by hunger

WFP and the Sustainable Development Goals

essay on death by hunger

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Hunger and malnutrition in the 21st century

Food for thought, click here to read other articles in this collection.

  • Related content
  • Peer review
  • Patrick Webb , professor 1 ,
  • Gunhild Anker Stordalen , policy advocate 2 ,
  • Sudhvir Singh , policy researcher 2 ,
  • Ramani Wijesinha-Bettoni , United Nations 3 ,
  • Prakash Shetty , professor 4 ,
  • Anna Lartey , director of nutrition 3
  • 1 Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  • 2 EAT Forum, Oslo, Norway
  • 3 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Ringgold Standard Institution, Rome, Italy
  • 4 MS Swaminathan Research Foundation, Ringgold Standard Institution, Chennai, India
  • Correspondence to: P Webb patrick.webb{at}

Despite record food output globally, hunger is still with us. Patrick Webb and colleagues argue that key policy actions are urgently needed to tackle this scourge and must focus on improving diet quality for all

Today’s world is characterised by the coexistence of agricultural bounty and widespread hunger and malnutrition. 1 Recent years have seen a reversal of a decades old trend of falling hunger, alongside the re-emergence of famine. 1 National and global evidence shows that ensuring an adequate food supply is still an important contribution to eradicating hunger. However, generating more food in the form of staple grains or tubers is not enough. Good nutrition and an end to hunger both require everyone to have an appropriate diet. How can that be achieved?

Characterising the problem

A recent report for the World Committee on Food Security argued that “malnutrition in all its forms—not only hunger, but also micronutrient deficiencies, as well as overweight and obesity—is … a critical challenge not only in the developing but also in the developed countries. Resolving malnutrition requires a better understanding of the determinants and processes that influence diets.” 1 Malnutrition ranges from extreme hunger and undernutrition to obesity ( box 1 ). 2 3 Furthermore, malnutrition is found in all countries, irrespective of their economic development, where people lack high quality diets. 4 5 6 Thus, solutions to hunger and to all forms of malnutrition need to focus on ensuring an adequate supply of food, but equally, on the quality of diets.

Terms and definitions 1 2 3

Hunger is characterised in many ways. It encompasses individual sensations and household behavioural responses, food scarcity (actual or feared) and national food balance sheets that focus on supply of energy (kilocalories) in any country in relation to a minimum threshold of need. The food balance sheet approach is the only standard of measurement used globally. It is based on data collated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. This organisation has replaced its previous use of the word “hunger” in describing this metric with the phrase “chronic undernourishment”. This today is defined as “a person’s inability to acquire enough food to meet daily minimum dietary energy requirements during 1 year” 1

Malnutrition— An all inclusive term that represents all manifestations of poor nutrition. It can mean any or all forms of undernutrition, overweight, and obesity

Undernutrition —Refers to any form of nutritional deficiency, particularly those manifest in maternal underweight, child stunting, child wasting, or micronutrient deficiencies. It does not include reference to overweight and obesity

Maternal underweight— A body mass index (BMI) of <18.5 among women of reproductive age. This typically reflects chronic energy deficiency coupled with a lack of other key macronutrients or micronutrients, ill health, or energy expenditure higher than consumption. A prevalence >20% indicates a serious public health problem

Child stunting —Height for age ≤ −2 standard deviations of the median for children aged 6-59 months, according to World Health Organization child growth standards

Child wasting— Weight for height ≤ −2 standard deviations of the median for children aged 6-59 months, according to WHO child growth standards

Micronutrient deficiencies— A lack of various key vitamins and minerals leads to a range of symptoms that are of global concern. These include anaemia due to iron deficiency and risk of child mortality associated with clinical vitamin A deficiency. Such deficiencies are measured in several ways, including biomarkers (assessed using blood, serum, urine, etc), clinical manifestations, or proxy measures of diet quality

Overweight and obesity —For non-pregnant adults, a BMI ≥25 represents being overweight. The threshold for obesity is a BMI ≥30. Child obesity is of increasing concern and was included in the latest global nutrition goals for 2030 (“no increase in childhood obesity”) 4

Today, risk factors for ill health associated with poor quality diets are the main causes of the global burden of disease. 5 6 Low quality diets lack key vitamins, minerals (micronutrients), and fibre or contain too many calories, saturated fats, salt, and sugar. 7 In 2010, dietary risk factors combined with physical inactivity accounted for 10% of the global burden of disease (measured as disability adjusted life years, which reflect the number of years lost due to ill health, disability, or early death). 8 By 2015, six of the top 11 global risk factors were related to diet, including undernutrition, high body mass index (BMI), and high cholesterol. 9 10 Where governments have invested the economic gains derived from rising productivity in safety nets and services accessible to the poor, this has resulted in national growth. 11 12 13 However, where poverty persists, including in rich nations, hunger also persists.

Several faces of hunger

Hunger is a broad unscientific term that relates to nutrition and health outcomes in various ways. The proportion of people defined as hungry over the long term (usually termed “chronically undernourished”) fell from 18.6% globally in 1990-2002 to under 11% in 2014-16 ( table 1 ). That was a decline of 211 million people while the world’s population increased by 2 billion. 2 Big gains were made in large countries like China and in Brazil, Ethiopia, and Bangladesh ( box 2 ). South America was particularly successful, reducing undernourishment by over 50% in 25 years. 1 Such gains were made possible largely by rapid reduction of poverty, rising levels of literacy, and health improvements that reduced preventable child mortality. 17

Numbers (millions) and prevalence (%) of people with chronic undernourishment, stunting, and wasting* by year and geographical region 2 14

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Successful resolution of undernutrition: Brazil, Ethiopia, and Bangladesh

Hunger (chronic undernourishment) has remained static at around 800 million people for several decades. This is largely because of rising populations in fragile states and the escalation of armed conflict in numerous parts of the world. 1 2 Nevertheless, child undernutrition has been falling. In 2000, roughly 200 million children under 5 years of age were stunted, but this has fallen to less than 151 million today. Rapid improvements in nutrition have been concentrated in several large nations, which have shown the way with policy success stories

• Brazil saw its prevalence of child stunting decline from 37% in 1974–1975 to 7% in 2006-7. 17 It achieved these gains through a sustained commitment to expand access to maternal and child health services (reaching into previously underserved geographical regions). This was coupled with large scale investment in social reform and safety net programmes that supported a narrowing of the income gap (through equitable poverty reduction), rising numbers of girls in school, declining fertility, and greater stability in income flows and food consumption among the poor. Stable food consumption was achieved through food supplementation targeted at mothers and children, and with cash transfers targeted at the poorest groups. All of this was helped by improved stability of governance. Few of these actions focused explicitly on nutrition, but many were driven by a policy agenda called “zero hunger.” Even with recent economic challenges and changes of government, the gains made over past decades persist

• Ethiopia has faced famines many times between the 1980s and the early 2000s. It has also reduced child stunting from 58% in 2000 to <40% by 2014. 18 Although this figure is still unacceptably high, it represents a fall of about 1.2% a year. 19 Ethiopia also increased enrolment and retention of girls in schools during this period, increased agricultural productivity, and implemented a huge employment based safety net (one of the largest social protection programmes in Africa). However, two other important drivers improved nutrition in this period. Firstly, a move by government to treat nutrition as a multisector challenge (met by numerous line ministry responsibilities) and, secondly, improved sanitation, focused on eradicating open defecation, which was a major impediment to health and the retention of nutrients in the diet 18 19

• Bangladesh is a modern nutrition superstar. It emerged from famine in the 1970s. Successive governments have worked alongside an unusually vibrant non-governmental sector to deal with underlying problems and visible symptoms of malnutrition. While service delivery remains generally weak, widespread targeted interventions were combined with a variety of nutritional measures that deal with underlying problems. 20 Such actions included economic growth policies aimed at the poor, girls’ education, improved sanitation, and a significant turnaround in the agricultural sector, which moved Bangladesh from being a net importer of food to a significant exporter. 18 21 As a result, child stunting fell from almost 57% in 1997 to around 36% in 2014 18 19

However, despite such progress the world still has unacceptably high numbers of undernourished people. Of the roughly 800 million undernourished, 780 million are in low income countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. 1 The continents of Africa and Asia have the greatest number of people living in extreme poverty, and it is here that extreme hunger and poverty together present the greatest risk of famine.

Famine is the most acute face of hunger. Over 70 million people died in famines during the 20th century. 22 23 24 Most deaths occurred in human induced crises, in which political mismanagement, armed conflict, and discrimination of marginalised political or ethnic groups compounded the effects of environmental shocks, such as droughts or locust invasions. 25 Deaths from famine fell from the mid-1980s onwards. However, as of 2017 four countries were again struggling to cope: Somalia, Yemen, South Sudan, and Nigeria. 26 In each case, instability induced by conflict, terrorism, drought and decades of failed governance have left over 20 million people facing famine, including 1.4 million children “at imminent risk of death.” 27

A major cause of mortality in famines is children becoming severely wasted. Around 52 million children were wasted in 2016, of whom around 70% (36 million) resided in Asia ( table 1 ). 14 Roughly 12.6% of deaths among children under 5 are attributed to wasting worldwide. 28 Although wasting has declined, progress has been slow and some countries have seen a rise, including Pakistan and India. 29 Many of the drivers of wasting are often the same as for stunting—namely, low birth weight, lack of exclusive breast feeding, poor hygiene and sanitation, and infectious disease. 30 While wasting is one sign of acute hunger, stunting (being too short for one’s age) represents chronic distress. Around 151 million preschool children were stunted in 2017, down from 200 million at the turn of the 20th century. 14 Improvements were made in east Asia, including China (today reporting a prevalence of only 6% compared with the global mean of 23%) and Bangladesh as well as in Latin America ( table 1 ). 31 Nevertheless, South Asia and East and Central Africa all still had rates over 32% in 2017.

Coexisting forms of malnutrition related to diet

The coexistence of multiple forms of malnutrition is a global phenomenon. That is, wasting often coexists with stunting in the same geographical areas, and can be found simultaneously in children. 32 For example, around 9% of children in India exhibit both conditions, while the rate in parts of Ghana is reported to be >3%. 32 33 Many countries with a high prevalence of stunting have made limited progress in achieving annual average rates of reduction required to meet global targets. For example, Timor Leste needs an annual reduction of around 5% to reduce stunting by 40% by 2030, but its current reduction rate is barely above zero. 9 Ethiopia also needs an annual average rate of reduction of 5%, but continues to remain at 3%.

Part of the reason for slow progress lies in overlapping micronutrient deficiencies. Inadequate supply of energy and protein both impair a child’s growth, but micronutrient deficiencies also have a role. It has been estimated that roughly 2 billion people, or about 29% of the world’s population, faced micronutrient deficiencies in 2010. 34 35 36 37 Micronutrient deficiencies are also widely present in high income countries. For example, childhood anaemia in 2010 was 26% in the Russian Federation and in Georgia, and 16%, on average, across the European Union. 38

Obesity is conventionally associated with food excess, but it is also associated with micronutrient deficiencies and even with daily hunger, as shown for Malaysia, 39 Canada, 40 and Iran. 41 Indeed, people with obesity can be prone to deficiencies of micronutrients, such as zinc, iron, and vitamins A, C, D, and E. 42 43 44 45 46 Between 1990 and 2010, the prevalence of adults with a high BMI in sub-Saharan Africa tripled. At the same time, hypertension increased by 60%, and the prevalence of high blood glucose rose nearly 30%. 47 The prevalence of overweight and obesity among South Asian women is almost the same today as the prevalence of underweight. 6 Pacific and Caribbean islands and countries in the Middle East and Central America have reached extremely high rates of adult overweight and obesity. Some have a prevalence as high as 80% (eg, Tonga, 84% for men, 88% for women). 48

Many countries today face the dual burden of rising rates of female obesity with continuing high rates of maternal underweight. The latter matters because of ill effects on the mother and on the unborn child. Roughly 30% of stunting by a child’s 3rd birthday can be attributed to being born small for gestational age, which is linked to nutrition before birth and health problems of the mother. 28 Not only is maternal underweight still more prevalent than overweight in rural parts of South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa but adult female underweight rose recently in Senegal, Madagascar, and Mali, mainly in urban settings. 49

Thus, actions are needed in all countries around the world to deal with undernutrition, micronutrient deficiencies, and overweight and obesity simultaneously. No country is exempt. “Triple duty” investments are needed everywhere because wealth and food sufficiency will not in themselves resolve the problems of low quality of diets.

Effective actions to tackle hunger and malnutrition

In 2016, the world hit a new record by producing over 2.5 billion metric tons of cereal grains—up from 1.8 billion tons 20 years earlier. 50 But hunger persists because an increased supply of food alone is neither the solution to hunger nor an answer to malnutrition. Countries that have made recent progress in reducing hunger and improving nutrition have a core set of common characteristics. Firstly, they tend to be politically stable countries that have pursued relatively equitable growth policies (not only increasing wealth for some but reducing poverty overall). Secondly, they employ targeted safety nets for the poor and invest in accessible services (education, clean water, healthcare). Thirdly, they assume responsibility for responding to shocks (economic, environmental, or due to conflict) in timely ways that mitigate human suffering.

Successful actions typically include a mix of targeted so called nutrition specific programming (aimed at preventing or resolving defined nutrition and health problems in individuals) and nutrition sensitive interventions for the whole population that deal with the underlying causes. 9 32 35 Table 2 provides details of evidence based policies and programmes in a variety of sectors, which are known to reduce hunger and deal with malnutrition. 32 In food and agriculture, these may include national price support interventions that increase the supply and accessibility of nutrient rich foods (often perishables, like dairy, fruits and fresh meats), coupled with technical and financial support for women farmers to produce nutrient rich vegetables in their gardens. In health, national policies to support accessible high quality services are critical to ensuring antenatal and postnatal care, particularly combined with targeted nutrition, exclusive breast feeding, and infant feeding messaging. Measures directed at underweight mothers are important for good birth outcomes, as well as varied forms of micronutrient supplementation. 1 In other words, the quality of services, scale of coverage, and the singling out of nutritionally vulnerable demographic groups are all keys to success. 20 47

Examples of actions to tackle hunger and malnutrition across sectors 3 20 47 51

Good nutrition and eradication of hunger comes at a price, but pays for itself in the longer term. Donor funding for nutrition sensitive programmes rose between 2003 and 2015, from 11.8% to 19.4%, reaching around $19bn (£14bn, €16bn) in 2015. 48 Such assistance is deemed to be effective, in that a 10% increase in overall nutrition sensitive aid delivers an estimated 1.1% “decrease in hunger” (measured as chronic undernourishment). 48 The World Bank has argued that a “priority package” of evidence based nutritional interventions that could be readily scaled up would require roughly $23bn over a decade, or $5 per child. 51 52 The World Bank emphasises that while international donor agencies should increase spending to achieve global nutrition goals, national governments and citizens themselves need to increase spending and act appropriately. The role of individuals and families comes largely in the form of preferences and constraints. 52 People make choices that shape dietary patterns and physical activity but also the uptake of healthcare services, spending on smoking and hygiene, as well as investments in schooling for their children and agricultural productivity (if farmers).

The value of such large investments to future human and economic development has long been understood in high income countries, such as Europe and the United States. European countries deploy a wide range of policies to combat residual hunger. These include promoting more diverse local food production and diversified diets, the latter “encouraged through nutrition education targeting school children and mothers of young children.” 38 The United States also supports large state food provisioning through nutrition programmes aimed at women and children. For example, spending on the federal food stamp programme in 2017 reached $68bn ($126 per person). 53 Similarly, spending on the Women Infants and Children programme, which targets low income families nutritionally at risk with food supplements, nutrition education, and health system referrals, reached $6.5bn in 2017. 54


The sustainable development goals require all countries and their citizens to act together to end hunger and all forms of malnutrition by 2030. 13 Setting targets is a good first step, but actions need to follow quickly. Urgent attention to achieve such goals is seriously overdue. Policy action must be designed to reduce malnutrition in all its forms, and be adequately funded. Measures must be evidence based, implemented at scale, and include both broad based and targeted actions aimed at the most nutritionally vulnerable people. The evidence to support such actions is growing, but it is already plentiful and compelling; there is no need for delay. The rapidly escalating threats posed by malnutrition represent a planetary challenge on a par with poverty and climate change. An appropriate response at the required scale is top priority for decision makers globally. It cannot wait.

Key messages

Despite record levels of food production globally, hunger and many forms of malnutrition still affect billions of people

While traditionally associated with a lack of food, hunger, and malnutrition (which includes overweight and obesity as well as undernutrition) are associated with low quality diets

Poor diet quality is a problem in every country—high and low income alike. A high quality diet meets most key nutrient needs, mainly through nutrient rich foods

Securing high quality diets for all, comprising sufficiency, diversity, balance, and safety, is necessary to resolve hunger and malnutrition in all its forms

Policy makers must urgently implement evidence based, cost effective actions that have a triple purpose: eradicate hunger, resolve all forms of undernutrition, and tackle obesity

Governments must consider how policies across multiple sectors influence the functioning of food systems from farm to fork. They must identify changes that will help all consumers to have healthy diets

The challenge is huge, but the urgency has never been so great

Contributors and sources: The authors have diverse subject expertise and policy experience relating to hunger, food insecurity, diets and nutrition. Some authors have a medical or agriculture background, while others have training and experience in policy analysis, nutrition and humanitarian action. PW and GAS were both members of the Global Futures Council on Food Security and Agriculture of the World Economic Forum. PW and AL advise the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition. SS is a contributing author to the upcoming EAT Lancet Commission on Healthy Diets from Sustainable Food Systems. Data used are all in the public domain, and are derived from nationally representative surveys, United Nations agency analyses, or peer reviewed publications. PW, GAS and AL were involved in manuscript concept and design. All authors were involved in drafting and editing the manuscript; critically revised the manuscript for important intellectual content and approved the final manuscript and the authorship list. PW is the guarantor.

Competing interests: We have read and understood BMJ policy on declaration of interests and have no relevant interests to declare.

Provenance and peer review: Commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

This article is one of a series commissioned by The BMJ . Open access fees for the series were funded by Swiss Re, which had no input into the commissioning or peer review of the articles. The BMJ thanks the series advisers, Nita Forouhi and Dariush Mozaffarian, for valuable advice and guiding selection of topics in the series.

This is an Open Access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited and the use is non-commercial. See: .

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essay on death by hunger

Introduction: Understanding Hunger

  • Published: 28 May 2021
  • Volume 40 , pages 503–506, ( 2021 )

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  • Andrea Borghini 1 &
  • Davide Serpico 2  

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1 Hunger and the Philosophy of Food

The philosophy of food is by now a relatively well-established area of research, with ramifications in branches such as ethics (Chignell et al. 2016 ; Thompson 2015 ; Sandler 2014 ; Barnhill et al. 2012 ), aesthetics (Todd 2010 ; Scruton 2009 ; Smith 2006 ; Korsmeyer 1999 ; Telfer 1996 ), philosophy of mind and epistemology (Barwich 2020 ), science and politics (Scrinis 2013 ), metaphysics and ontology (Borghini and Engisch 2021 ; Borghini and Piras 2020 ; Borghini 2015 ); it also convenes philosophers that identify themselves with different schools and methods (for some essays of such variety, see Kaplan 2012 as well as Curtin and Heldke 1992 ). Nonetheless, it is a widespread prejudice to think that issues pertaining to food and philosophy regard the food itself—e.g., what food we ought or ought not to eat under given circumstances, the aesthetic properties of food, the moral and cultural values linked to food, how to improve extant food systems, and so on.

The list of topics that have so far been neglected includes the varieties of volitional states associated with the concept of hunger, broadly understood (see Borghini 2017 ). Hunger has come under closer scrutiny in other fields of scholarship, most notably in history (Williams 2020 , Tucker 2007 , Russell 2005 , Vernon 2007 ), psychology (e.g., Rappoport 2003 ), studies of science and culture (e.g., Dmitriev et al. 2019 ). As for philosophy, there are more or less recent notable examples of studies concerned with specific aspects of hunger, such as eating disorders (e.g., Giordano 2005 ) or famine (Pogge 2016 ; O’Neill 1980 ); and there are some philosophical studies on the existential meaningfulness of consuming foods (e.g., Leder 1990 ). Nonetheless, the bounty of issues that hunger may elicit have hitherto been only skimmed superficially: is hunger best understood as a form of pain? Is it a complex desire? Or is it a biological condition? Is there a fundamental distinction between hunger and appetite? In what ways the conceptual study of hunger impinges over our understanding of topics such as eating disorders and obesity?

This special issue was put together to start covering the scholarship gap on hunger in the philosophical arena. Its idea originated from two workshops organised by Andrea Borghini and Davide Serpico at the University of Milan in the Fall of 2018, respectively titled “The Depths of Hunger” (October 12, 2018) and “Measuring Hunger” (November 16, 2018). The goal of the workshops and, then, of the issue is to focus on conceptual aspects of hunger that are theoretical in nature and that bear significant value-laden consequences. The approach brings together different philosophical perspectives and methods as well as some scholars from another discipline (i.e., psychology, with the paper by Beaulieu and Blundell) that accepted the challenge to write for a philosophical audience.

To introduce the issue, we shall now offer an overview of the philosophical questions that pertain to hunger, to then present the papers here collected.

2 Hunger: Philosophical Questions

The papers contained in this issue bear witness to the wide array of themes that pertain to a philosophical study of hunger. Before delving into the details of the papers, however, it is worthy to take a step back and depict a broader picture of the topics that philosophers can peruse when it comes to hunger (see also Borghini 2017 on this). In this section, we suggest three areas of research where philosophers can provide meaningful contributions.

The concept of hunger is central to frame philosophical questions pertaining to the ethics and politics of malnutrition, undernutrition, and famine. The latter, in fact, are correlated to specific conditions where agents cannot suitably satisfy their volitional states regarding food—for instance, the agent cannot procure enough food for themselves or is surrounded by too much food; or, contrary to their preferences, the agent's diet is lacking or is too abundant in specific nutrients. The connection between hunger and these other concepts is, nonetheless, far from being clearly established in the literature. Philosophers can offer much in this area, starting from a conceptual analysis of hunger and of its ties to the other concepts (see Borghini 2017 ).

Hunger can be approached, from an existential point of view, as a defining aspect of the human condition. In other words, hunger, understood in a broad sense, is a primary mode of being. We are born hungry. We have been hungry well longer than we can remember being alive and well before gaining self-consciousness of our own pleasures. Each human, qua human, is endowed with an array of physiological and psychological states correlated with the act of eating (as discussed by Beaulieu and Blundell in their essay included in this issue); the satisfaction of hunger is one of the most complex and important ecological relationships in which we partake. Through this lens, hunger raises little-explored philosophical difficulties: What sort of state is hunger—e.g., is it a perception, an emotion, a mood, none of these or all of these? What is the relationship between hunger, desire, and pleasure? Ombrato and Phillips as well as Kaplan, in the essays contributed to this issue, advance our understanding of these questions. Also, the essay by Dean included in this issue offers a much needed analysis of the positive values of mindless eating.

Finally, an appreciation of the complex facets of hunger is relevant in high-end gastronomy and can make a difference to the aesthetic value of a dining experience. Following Borghini ( 2017 ), we can envisage two avenues for research here. The first is related to the constitutive role of hunger in defining specific gastronomic attitudes and perspectives (see Shapin 1998 for some examples), and specific schools and movements, such as Nouvelle cuisine. The second avenue sustains those approaches to taste that purport to go beyond what merely happens in the mouth of a diner, rather insisting that hunger is a key ingredient in providing a gastronomic experience with aesthetic worth. In fact, Bacchini’s paper in this issue delves into these issues.

To these three areas of research, others may be added. For instance, as the papers by Amoretti and Giordano in this issue demonstrate, reflecting on hunger is key to enhance our understanding of eating disorders. Also, to offer another example, a more nuanced conception of hunger could be put at use in devising appropriate strategies for tackling issues such as obesity, as suggested by Serpico and Borghini also in this issue. While we cannot peruse and develop all these suggestions for further research, we hope these remarks can convince the reader of their fruitfulness and importance.

3 The Issue

This special issue was put together with the conviction that the conceptual subtleties of hunger cannot solely be investigated by a specific category of philosophers (e.g., philosophers of emotion or philosophers of action), but rather require the concerted effort of several philosophical sub-disciplines as well as the contribution and validation of scholars that approach the topic from other disciplinary perspectives.

The eight papers that compose the issue highlight the complexity of the philosophical questions linked to hunger and may be grouped under two main clusters. The first cluster digs into the varieties of experiential states correlated with hunger and aims to uncover theoretical assumptions underpinning ethical, political, and aesthetic conceptions of hunger. We can include here the papers by Dean, Ombrato and Phillips, Kaplan, Bacchini, and Giordano. The second cluster examines different approaches to the measurement of hunger, with the goal of uncovering chief theoretical assumptions that bear important ethical and political consequences. Here we can include the papers by Amoretti, Beaulieu and Blundell, Giordano, and Serpico and Borghini.

More specifically, in “In Defense of Mindless Eating,” Megan A. Dean makes the case for mindless eating against a widespread opinion—most famously defended by Brian Wansink—according to which mindless eating is always a bad way of eating. Building upon Maureen Sie’s account of agency, Dean convincingly shows that some forms of mindless eating ought to be regarded positively because they constitute “a non-conscious but agential response to situational normative cues.” Dean’s paper opens up new avenues of interpretation and research over a form of eating that is quotidian and ultimately unavoidable for human beings.

The links between hunger and agency are investigated also by Michele Davide Ombrato and Edgar Phillips in “The Mind of the Hungry Agent: Hunger, Affect, and Appetite. ” In their paper, Ombrato and Phillips discuss the fundamental conceptual framework that may be needed to properly explain the behaviour of hungry agents. To do so, they begin by asking what sort of condition hunger is, suggesting that it is a complex state bearing both hedonic and somatic aspects, with the power of affecting an agent's attention. A key feature of hunger seems to be its likeness to the states that we label as needs: hunger triggers an aversive affective reaction, which motivates an agent to seek out ways to accommodate it by, for instance, consuming some (possibly specific) food. At the same time, Ombrato and Phillips suggest that hunger is also linked to positive affective reactions, including interest and appetite.

In “Hunger Hermeneutics ,” David M. Kaplan adopts a different methodology to inquire how hunger affects our agency, which is more rooted in the phenomenological tradition. Kaplan’s initial focus is on the lack of knowledge that typically accompanies individual agency when it comes to hunger. Such lack may be primarily attributed to the influences of our bodies, of unconscious desires, and of society over our representations of our hunger states. And yet—Kaplan suggests—hunger also displays some peculiar forms of certainty that is provided by internal influences: our internal senses suggest us when to stop eating and when to seek out more food, and taste of course guides us in the quest for food. It is thus in the dialectic between the wide range of internal sources of information versus those that are regarded as “external” that we can try to make sense of the peculiar agentive state characteristic of hunger.

With the paper by Fabio Bacchini “Hunger as a Constitutive Property of a Culinary Work” we move into a different terrain, which connects our understanding of hunger to the appreciation of the aesthetic value of certain culinary experiences. Bacchini contends that, in some instances, a certain degree of hunger is a constitutive property of a culinary work. That is, in some instances a cook poses as a necessary condition for experiencing their work that the diner possesses a certain degree of hunger. Bacchini’s piece shows in what ways specific conceptions of hunger are linked to culinary works, making an original contribution to the debate on the aesthetic value of dining experiences.

Another important essay of the link between conceptual and value-laden issues when it comes to hunger is offered by Simona Giordano’s “Secret Hunger: The Case of Anorexia Nervosa.” In her paper, Giordano studies the coercive treatment for anorexia nervosa. On the one hand, such treatment is sometimes the only way to prevent death, while on the other hand such practice stands as a concerning form of bodily intrusion, violating even those stated wishes of patients that are intelligently and uncontroversially stated. In fact—Giordano argues—the exceptional circumstances that affect agents with anorexia nervosa do call for the proposal of alternative ethical principles of decision-making, which evade those standardly adopted in other spheres of agency. In order to develop her proposal, Giordano surveys cases that appeared before the courts of England and Wales and in the US between 2012 and 2016, offering a conceptual analysis of concepts such as capacity, best interests, and futility, which are crucially employed in court setting. Giordano’s research, thus, offers a concrete precedent of how the conceptual work provided by philosophers may be of use in delicate legal settings and may also serve society at large to adequately confront eating behaviours such as those characteristically associated to anorexia nervosa.

Giordano’s paper also serves as a link between the two clusters of papers within the issue, as it underscores the crucial role played by health sciences and health experts in forming the conceptions of hunger at play in contemporary societies. In “Do Feeding and Eating Disorders Fit the General Definition of Mental Disorder?,” Maria Cristina Amoretti faces straight up the question of whether feeding and eating disorders should be classified as mental disorders, given the extant definitions employed by health practitioners. Amoretti’s starting point is the definition of mental disorder provided in the Introduction of DSM-5. Such definition sees a disorder as a dysfunction associated with distress and disability. Hence, Amoretti suggests, in order to find out whether eating disorders are mental disorders, we should study, first, in what ways they may be accompanied by dysfunctions and, second, whether they are associated with significant harm. With respect to the latter, Amoretti unpacks the general notions of distress and disability that accompany eating disorders. With respect to whom, by whom, and how should such notions be employed? And what role does the harm requirement play in diagnoses of eating disorders?

The next paper within the issue is contributed by psychology researchers, who landed themselves to the challenge of presenting their ideas within the context of a philosophy journal. In “The Psychobiology of Hunger—A Scientific Perspective,” Kristine Beaulieu and John Blundell offer a psychobiological framework for hunger, which sees it as a ‘need state’ mediating between biological and environmental factors. Hunger—they explain—is a conscious sensation that we learn to distinguish from other conscious states such as pain, fear, and tiredness. Such sensation can be objectively measured and marks underlying, biological conditions. In fact, they use empirical studies to show that hunger is clearly associated with biological signals, in particular it is rooted in the relationship between energy expenditure and energy intake, and reflects the degree of a person’s physical activity. And yet, an explanation of the conscious state of hunger requires also the consideration of environmental influences, which modulate its intensity and periodicity, as well as cultural factors, which shape the appropriateness of its expression. Ultimately, Beaulieu and Blundell suggest that the control of the intensity of hunger may be achieved by better understanding the biological and the environmental factors that influence it.

Finally, in “From Obesity to Energy Metabolism: Ontological Perspectives on the Metrics of Human Bodies,” Davide Serpico and Andrea Borghini put forward a principled characterisation of the biological status of obesity, inspired by the comparison of obesity-related traits with other phenotypic traits such as Mendelian diseases, IQ, and human stature. The paper first discusses how the contemporary study of the genetics and development of obesity makes use of a plurality of methodological and theoretical approaches. Methodologies can involve genome-wide association and heritability studies, widely adopted in quantitative genetics, or Mendelian methods such as the candidate-gene approach, or molecular explanations. From a theoretical perspective, instead, researchers can differently conceptualise and operationalise obesity-related traits depending on the aims of their research. By highlighting the plurality of current scientific understandings of obesity, Serpico and Borghini suggest that classifications of humans into obese and non-obese are a delicate affair. Their suggestion is to employ conceptual resources of developmental biology and epigenetics to rethink obesity in a framework that is specific to the development of individual agents and that is sensitive to the temporal potentialities of bodily transformations.

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Andrea Borghini

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Davide Serpico

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Borghini, A., Serpico, D. Introduction: Understanding Hunger. Topoi 40 , 503–506 (2021).

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Accepted : 29 April 2021

Published : 28 May 2021

Issue Date : July 2021


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World Hunger Essay

World hunger is a problem that has existed for centuries. Despite the efforts of many organizations and individuals, the number of people who are hungry or at risk of hunger continues to rise. According to the World Food Programme, there are about 795 million people who are chronically undernourished, which means that they do not have enough food to lead a healthy and active life.

The causes of world hunger are complex and multi-faceted, but there are some common underlying factors. One of the main causes is poverty. People living in poverty do not have the money to buy food, or they may not have access to land where they can grow their own food. Another major cause of world hunger is conflict. When countries are in conflict, it disrupts the distribution of food and can lead to widespread famine. Natural disasters, such as droughts and floods, can also cause food shortages.

There are many ways to address world hunger. One way is to provide emergency food assistance to people who are affected by natural disasters or conflicts. Another way is to work on long-term solutions such as economic development and agricultural reform.

World hunger is a complex problem that requires a multi-faceted approach to be effectively addressed. However, with concerted effort and cooperation, it is possible to make progress in the fight against hunger.

As I speak these words to you, a youngster somewhere on this planet will have perished from starvation. A child. Children are the most vulnerable of us: they trust everyone instinctively, and their purity is genuine and appropriate and necessary–and they’re dying in far-flung regions of the globe until their skin stretches over their bones and they don’t have the strength, desire, or capacity to cry out anymore. You may feel for them with compassion or guilt or simply an understanding of their condition.

They become a statistic, one more number in the millions that die each year from something as preventable and solvable as hunger.

World hunger is one of the biggest problems faced by the human race. It’s not just a problem in developing countries, either. In our own country, the United States of America, there are children going to bed hungry every night. Just think about that for a moment. In the richest country in the world, with more resources than any other nation, there are still children who don’t have enough to eat. That’s shameful.

The problem of world hunger is complex and multi-faceted. There are many factors that contribute to it: war, natural disasters, poverty, poor infrastructure and access to resources, and more. But the bottom line is that there is enough food in the world to feed everyone. So why are people still going hungry?

There are a number of organizations working to solve the problem of world hunger. One of them is World Food Programme (WFP). The WFP is the world’s largest humanitarian organization, working to end hunger worldwide. They provide food assistance in emergencies and help communities develop long-term solutions to hunger.

You can help fight world hunger by supporting the WFP or another organization working to end hunger. You can also donate money or time to local food banks or soup kitchens. Or you can advocate for policies that will help reduce hunger and poverty.

The bottom line is that we can end world hunger. But it’s going to take all of us working together to make it happen.

Despite this, they remain hungry while their countries suffer from deadly plagues that demand sweet forgiveness. You may believe you can do nothing, but a single dollar here and there seems to fall off your fingers without a second thought—dollars that could feed starving families for days.

In order to truly address the problem of world hunger, not only must someone travel to these nations and improve their infrastructure in order to give assistance, but you must also keep them in mind so that their suffering does not go unnoticed. The first step is changing one’s diet.

People in these areas often don’t have access to gardens or grocery stores. Without a change in diet, the people will never be able to properly absorb the nutrients they need. They must have access to education so that they can learn about food and its value, not only for themselves but also for their families. The next issue is infrastructure.

These countries must have access to clean water and sanitation so that disease doesn’t spread like wildfire through their communities. They also need roads and transportation so that they can get food and supplies to where they’re needed most. And finally, they need medical care. Too often, children die because they don’t have access to basic medical care, such as vaccinations. World hunger is a problem that can be solved, but it will take more than just money.

It will take a change in mindset and a willingness to help those who cannot help themselves. With your help, we can make the world a better place for everyone. World hunger is a global issue that effects us all. We need to work together to find a solution so that everyone can have access to food and live a healthy life. Thank you for your time and consideration. World hunger must end now.

World hunger is defined as “a condition in which people lack the means necessary to obtain adequate food on a daily basis” ( According to the World Food Programme, there are 795 million people around the world who are affected by hunger on a daily basis, including 155 million children under the age of five.

Some countries have the resources to provide children with adequate calories to develop and thrive, yet they waste away and die. This is due to malnutrition. Micronutrients (particularly protein) are lacking in many fatal diseases due to a lack of macronutrients (especially protein).

Both kwashiorkor and marasmus are particularly terrible and prevalent forms of malnutrition. Kwashiorkor occurs as a result of a deficit in protein, whereas marasmus results from an absence of all minerals. Both induce youngsters to become heartbreaking images made up of skin and bones. The method to properly subsist on farm must be established in every nation on the planet in order to address this.

World hunger has many causes, but all of them are interconnected. Poverty is the main cause of world hunger. According to World Bank, “Poverty is hunger. Poverty is lack of shelter. Poverty is being sick and not being able to see a doctor. Poverty is not having access to school and not knowing how to read. Poverty is not having a job, is fear for tomorrow, living one day at a time.”

This means that people who are poor do not have enough money to buy food or clothes or even pay their rent. They also do not have enough money to go to the doctor when they are sick and they cannot afford to send their children to school because they need them to work in order to earn some money.

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Home / Essay Samples / Social Issues / Poverty Problem / World Hunger

World Hunger Essay Examples

Ending world hunger: a comprehensive approach.

World hunger remains one of humanity's most pressing challenges, with millions of people suffering from malnutrition and starvation. This essay explores a multifaceted approach to ending world hunger, emphasizing the importance of addressing the root causes, promoting sustainable agriculture, and fostering international cooperation. While eradicating...

The Urgent Need to End World Hunger

Have you ever thought what it would be like to have no food? To go to bed starving and your body sore with lack of nourishment. To sleep not knowing when your next meal might be? I am sure most of us have never needed...

Causes and Effects of the World Hunger

World hunger has affected many thousands of people, and this crisis is becoming increasingly more problematic among today’s contemporary society. Many children are undernourished due to deficient nutrition, especially in developing countries. World hunger essentially indicates that the starvation has accumulated to a universal level....

The Rising Problem of Hunger Around the World

With as many human advancements as man made throughout history, world hunger continues. By exploring the many political factors and human apathy toward the poor, it is clear that if steps to resolve this problem are not taken society itself will continue to fail its...

World Hunger Should not Be a Problem

World Hunger is a huge problem around the world that could be fixed. Around the world we have 815 million deaths a year, it is also 45% of all childhood deaths . Also, you'll need to know what other things people go through if they...

The Major Causes of World Hunger

Mother Teresa once said, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one”. Everyday we wake up, scrub down, have our morning meal, drink some espresso or tea and do other ordinary things without understanding that many individuals suffer from everyday cravings. They...

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