“We need to look beyond hunger,” said Cindy Holleman, senior economist at the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the report’s editor.
“If we just focus on hunger, we’re going to be missing a lot of the growing problems we’re seeing.”
Moderate food insecurity affects people who have had to reduce the quality or quantity of what they eat due to lack of money or other resources.
It can lead to obesity as well as stunting – a condition that permanently affects children’s mental and physical development.
The findings show governments need to pay more attention to different aspects of food availability instead of just focusing on producing more, said the director-general of the FAO, which compiled the report with four other UN agencies.
“Governments are very much oriented to the production side. They believe that if there is food available, people will eat. In a way, that’s not true,” Jose Graziano da Silva told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“We are not looking at the distribution, the markets, the behaviour of the people, the culture of the people.”
The new data reflects the fact that there are now more obese people in the world than hungry ones.
But it also showed the number of hungry people increased in 2018 for the third year running.
Hunger is on the rise in most of Africa, in parts of the Middle East and in Latin America and the Caribbean, the report said, with conflict and climate shocks largely to blame.
Jean-Michel Grand, executive director of Action Against Hunger UK, said the true scale of the problem was likely even bigger, and called for urgent global change.
“Progress won’t be made if we don’t address the causes of conflict, the continuing inequality for women and girls, and weak health systems,” he said.
The report said there were 822 million obese people in 2016, the most recent year for which figures were available, when 796.5 million people were undernourished.
Nutritionists have said obesity figures are likely to have increased further since then.
“Obesity is out of control,” said Graziano da Silva, who likened the situation to the beginning of the Green Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s when high-yielding seeds, fertilisers and irrigation helped stave off famine in hungry parts of the world.
“We were anticipating big hunger in Asia. Now, we are anticipating a big crisis due to the rise of obesity. And this trend takes more time and is more complex [to resolve] than hunger.”
Seven things you need to know about world hunger
1. 821.6 million people or 11 per cent of the global population, suffer from hunger
2. Africa has the highest percentage of hungry people, with one in five people going hungry. The number rises to nearly one in three in east Africa
3. Hunger is increasing in many countries where economic growth is lagging, particularly in middle-income countries and those that rely heavily on exporting commodities
4. In every continent, women are more likely to go hungry than men, although the largest gap is in Latin America
5. There has been no progress since 2012 in reducing the number of children with low birth weight, putting them at a higher risk of dying or of stunted growth
6. Africa and Asia had the greatest share of all forms of malnutrition, accounting for more than nine out of 10 of all stunted children – and nearly three-quarters of all overweight children
7. In upper-middle and high-income countries, people living in households where getting enough food is a struggle are more likely to become obese
(Source: The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2019)