Health and Nutrition Fund

Food Insecurity Definition

Food insecurity is defined as an individual’s inability to regularly access enough nutritious food to lead an active and healthy life.

Food insecurity occurs when physical, social or economic circumstances disrupt a person’s access to sufficient quantities of nutritionally dense food to remain healthy, and it means a person can have enough food and still be food insecure.

According to the World Health Organization, there are two different levels of food insecurity:

  • Moderate food insecurity.
  • Severe food insecurity.

Moderate food insecurity means people have inconsistent access to healthy food or only have access to food and groceries with low nutritional value. It does not necessarily mean they are experiencing hunger.

According to The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2019, “people experiencing moderate food insecurity face uncertainties about their ability to obtain food, and have been forced to compromise on the quality and/or quantity of the food they consume.”

Moderate food insecurity isn’t extreme enough to cause undernourishment — when a person’s intake of vitamins and minerals is less than what it needs to be for proper development, growth and health — but it does increase the incidence of overweight and obesity in the population because of the low nutritional value associated with the food that is available.

17.2% of the world population, or 1.3 billion people, have experienced moderate food insecurity.1

Severe food insecurity occurs when there is a consistent lack of access to healthy food. People experiencing severe food insecurity often experience hunger for sustained periods as they don’t have adequate food for days at a time.

Food insecurity statistics not only show how widespread and severe the problem is (about 2 billion people in the word experience food insecurity1), they also highlight the inequality associated with poverty and hunger.

Throughout the world, the incidence of food insecurity is higher among women than men,1 and the income inequality which causes economic downturns to disproportionately affect the poor and low income earners is 20% higher in low-income countries compared to middle-income countries.1

The food insecure are primarily concentrated in low- and middle-income countries,* but food insecurity also affects about 8% of people in the United States, Canada and Europe.1

What Causes Food Insecurity?

Social and political environments influence the availability of food in communities. Countries with less political stability and greater violence have higher food insecurity.1 Without social programs or support organizations like food banks to help, aid is not available to those in need.

Relationships between countries influence supply chains and trade within a community, and the economy of a nation affects the availability of healthy food.

The climate and natural disasters also contribute to food insecurity. When the environment strikes with drought, flooding, earthquakes, fires, and even disease, food availability and access is affected. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, food prices have increased by over 38%, leading to higher rates of global food insecurity.2

As of April 2021, the World Food Program (WFP) estimates that 296 million people in the 35 countries where it works are without sufficient food.2

Effects of Food Insecurity

Food insecurity creates many challenges that affect the physical, mental, emotional and economic well-being of people, including:

  • Malnutrition, undernutrition and higher rates of diet-related, non-communicable diseases.
  • Impaired physical and cognitive development, including:
    • Wasting – low weight-for-height.
    • Stunting – low height-for-weight.
    • Underweight – low weight-for-age.
    • Overweight and obesity – excess weight-for-height.
    • Damage to the brain and other organs.
    • Difficulty with focus, concentration, memory.
  • Greater susceptibility to infection and severity of disease, along with higher morbidity in society.
  • Increased hospitalizations and public health care needs, along with higher health care costs.
  • Behavioral problems in school and at home, as well as increased violence and crime in a community.
  • Increased risk of anxiety, depression and other mental health issues.
  • Lower educational achievement.
  • A less educated and competitive workforce, with greater absenteeism and turnover rates for employees.
  • Reduced earning potential for the poorly educated and untrained.
  • Greater gender inequality and inequity between segments of society.

Food Insecurity Solutions

Solving the issue of food insecurity around the world involves multiple areas of society and requires strategies and policies that:

  • Build resilience to agricultural stressors and shocks.
  • Address water allocation and water rights.
  • Improve post-harvest food processing.
  • Reduce food waste.
  • Increase food safety.
  • Establish fair food trade and distribution practices.
  • Protect and lift up small-scale farmers.
  • Expand and improve successful food access programs.
  • Target gender and race inequalities pertaining to food access and affordability.
  • Balance the nutritional benefits of food items against the ecological costs.
  • Promote better land use patterns and crop diversification.
Three quarters of the world’s food is derived from only 12 plants and five animal species.3

The benefits of these practices will:

  • Increase food production and crop yields.
  • Ensure sufficient staple foods are available.
  • Give a second life to surplus food.
  • Allow communities to feed themselves.
  • Improve and diversify local diets.
  • Reduce the commercialization of food by big business.
  • Curb the problem of food insecurity.

How Does Compassion International Help Address Food Insecurity?

As the world’s leading authority in holistic child development through sponsorship, Compassion understands food insecurity is directly related to poverty.

Through thousands of local churches around the world, sponsors and donors ease the hunger and food insecurity of more than 2 million babies, children and young adults in Africa, Asia, and Central and South America by addressing their acute needs for food, as well as the root causes of child hunger, child poverty and malnutrition.

Compassion’s Food Security Initiatives address the food security and needs of children living in extreme poverty, while also providing preventive care to support long-term health and wellness.

By giving, you help provide food, supplemental nutrition assistance and medical care to malnourished children and support to our therapeutic feeding and food stability initiatives. A donation today will also help safeguard children from illnesses that hamper early childhood development and threaten their lives.

Donate today to help address life-threatening food security needs and to provide:

  • Food assistance through healthful food kits that include essentials like rice, eggs, meat, milk, corn and other nonperishable dry goods.
  • Medical therapeutic feeding for babies, children or youths, caregivers and siblings.
  • Nutrition assistance for pregnant mothers and infants.
  • Preventive and income-generating activities that help address food insecurity long term.

Based on current economic growth, food security and hunger forecasts associated with COVID-19, Compassion anticipates facing difficult food security issues for the next several years.

Give With Confidence

With Compassion, your donation is used wisely to help children around the world.

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1 FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO. 2019. The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2019. Safeguarding against economic slowdowns and downturns. Rome, FAO. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO.

2 Food Security and COVID-19. World Bank. (2021.).

3 Solutions to Food Insecurity - a background briefing. Tread Softly. (n.d.).

* In 2015, the World Bank began phasing out the term “developing world” in its publications and databases. The use of the developed countries and developing countries categories was “becoming less relevant” with the adoption of the SDG and its focus on targets for the entire world.