What are the main reasons Hunger Exists?

In 2018, one out of every nine people were hungry and this number is only on the rise, according to the World Health Organization.

But why? It’s a question that has long been debated by researchers and scholars, but yet the problem persists.

Keep reading to find out some of the largest causes of world hunger and what we can do to stop it in its tracks.

Why does hunger exist?

Hunger is a byproduct of a bigger problem. Just as chemotherapy causes hair loss, the major problem isn’t the chemotherapy, it’s cancer. But the question remains, what are these bigger problems?

There are more causes of world hunger than would fit into a readable article, so instead, we’ve created a list that you can use as a starting point to begin your own research. Keep in mind that all of the items listed below interact, so there’s really no way to pinpoint the exact cause of hunger.

For example, poverty causes a lack of education but war can also cause poverty. And of course, when people are starving they can’t find the energy with which to cultivate crops which in turn leads to further starvation. This is why solving the hunger crisis is such a major problem; one organization simply can’t address every issue.

Poverty: This one is pretty self-explanatory. When people don’t have the economic means with which to purchase food, they’ll go hungry. Sometimes it’s a case of having to decide if they want to pay for food or pay their rent.
Animal agriculture: Famine and war cause only about 10 percent of hunger related deaths. The other 90 percent of deaths come from chronic malnutrition that’s caused by poor distribution of resources such as the majority of the world’s grain going to feed livestock instead of people. And in turn, this livestock cannot feed as many people as the original grain could have. Additionally, meat is more expensive than grain, so only those with money can purchase the meat, which further perpetuates the hunger crisis.
War: During wartime, people are frequently moved from their homes. Farmers are pushed off of their land or sent off to fight, making crop cultivation nearly impossible during wartime. Opposing forces may burn the land and kill the animals, also contributing to famine.
Climate change: Climate change causes not only unpredictable weather but deadly storms and temperatures (both hot and cold) that make it increasingly more difficult to grow crops.
Failure of political institutions: Although this failure happens for multiple reasons (war, corruption, colonization, famine, etc.) political unrest can lead to conflict, which as we have discussed, pushes farmers out of their land or ruins the land completely.

Facts about World Hunger

The majority of those who suffer from chronic hunger live in sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia.
Food shortages are particularly horrible for women because they are often sold as sex slaves so traffickers can afford to eat.
Poor nutrition causes nearly half of the deaths of all children under five every year.
The number of hungry people could be reduced by nearly 150 million if women farmers had the same resources and aid as male farmers.
66 million elementary school-age children go to school hungry in developing countries.
In 2017, it was estimated that 150 million children under the age of 5 were stunted.
Malnutrition results in both obesity and wasting. In some countries, the only food that people can afford is an unhealthy, greasy, and cholesterol-raising fast-food burger, while in other countries there is simply no affordable or available food.
It’s estimated that 2 billion people suffer from macronutrient (carbohydrate, protein, and lipids) deficiency, while 1.9 billion suffer from obesity or from being overweight.

Child Hunger

Hungry children are found everywhere, although the vast majority are located in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. Children who are malnourished are increasingly at risk of contracting diseases, and they spend up to 160 days of each year with a serious illness that their body can’t fight off.

Proper nutrition is vital for adults, but when children go without the proper nutrients or the right amounts of food, their risk of death and inability to develop or thrive is even more severe.

Adequate nutrition has been recognized as “a pillar of social and economic development” (Hunger Notes). Those whose basic physiological needs (air, water, food, shelter, sleep, etc.) are met, are able to move up the hierarchy of needs and onto improving themselves and their lives. Ending child hunger and preventing it in future generations is absolutely essential to helping developing countries thrive.

Effects of Hunger on the Body:

  • Lack of mobility and increased risk of falls caused by bone and joint problems
  • Diminished ability to heal
  • Diabetes
  • Glaucoma, macular degeneration, and cataracts
  • Increased speed of the loss of neurons in the brain
  • Overworked kidneys which lead to intense pain
  • Increased risk of severe PTSD and depression
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease

How can we reduce the number of hungry people and feed everyone?

So now, the grand question is: how do we help?

One of the largest impacts you can have begins with your own diet. According to A Well-Fed World, “The grains and soybeans fed to animals in the US alone could provide enough food to feed the world’s hungry.”

Want the numbers?

According to the World Health Organization and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, about 820 million people do not have enough to eat. Now, this number is higher than it was several years ago but the math, done by a researcher at Cornell, still stands. The majority of the grain grown around the world goes to livestock, which, after consuming mass amounts of grain, can’t feed as many people as the original grain would have. National Geographic states clearly that, “For every 100 calories of grain we feed animals, we get only about 40 new calories of milk, 22 calories of eggs, 12 of chicken, 10 of pork, or 3 of beef.” Cutting animal products and decreasing the demand is essential in ending world hunger.

Another option is to support and invest in nonprofits like Food for Life, who support efforts to end hunger. The Famine Early Warning Systems Network is another wonderful organization that strives to predict areas in which famine may occur, based on a variety of different elements, such as those listed above.

We Need Your Help

We’re always looking for volunteers, both in-person and remote. There’s something for everyone, and your time can truly help save lives. Your donations are also incredibly valuable. Check out how many children you could help.


Support the important work of Food for Life Global to serve its international network of over 200 affiliates in 60 countries.
Food for Life Global is a 501(c) (3) charitable organization, EIN 36-4887167. All donations are deemed tax-deductible absent any limitations on deductibility applicable to a particular taxpayer. No goods or services were provided in exchange for your contribution.

Food For Life Global’s primary mission is to bring about peace and prosperity in the world through the liberal distribution of pure plant-based meals prepared with loving intention.

Paul Turner

Paul Turner

Paul Turner co-founded Food for Life Global in 1995. He is a former monk, a veteran of the World Bank, entrepreneur, holistic life coach, vegan chef, and author of 6 books, including, FOOD YOGA, 7 maxims for soul happiness.

MR. Turner has traveled to 72 countries over the last 35 years helping to establish Food for Life projects, train volunteers, and document their success.

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