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First global estimates of food insecurity among households with children

Food Insecurity Experience Survey and Gallup World Poll provide data
Food insecurity index paper 1 A man feeds his child in the village of Yezegu, Ghana. Ghana’s prevalence of food insecurity among households with children under age 15 is approximately 54 per cent.

(30 June 2017) Using FAO’s Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES) to measure moderate and severe food insecurity in combination with data from the Gallup World Poll (GWP) survey, a new UNICEF Innocenti Working Paper, Prevalence and Correlates of Food Insecurity among Children across the Globe, presents the first global estimates of food insecurity among households with children under age 15, from 147 countries and four territories. 

Of the 147 countries observed, 41 per cent of children under age 15 live with a respondent who is moderately or severely food insecure, with 19 per cent of those living with a respondent who is severely food insecure, and 45 per cent living with a respondent who reported not having enough money to buy food in the previous 12 months. These estimates represent approximately 605 million, 260 million, and 688 million children under age 15, respectively.

Prevalence of Food Insecurity Infographic

To better understand how well the FIES captures different aspects of food insecurity, the study also tested FIES against the GWP food insecurity indicator (measured by “Was there ever a time in the last 12 months when you did not have enough money to buy food?”), monetary poverty and the Negative Experience Index[1]. Trends in per capita income were also measured as a determinant of food security to observe how the relationship fluctuated during the Great Recession.

[Read a recent Evidence for Action blog on the challenges of measuring food insecurity]

The data demonstrates that food insecurity among households with children under age 15 is most prevalent in South Sudan, with 92 per cent of households with children experiencing moderate to severe food insecurity.  South Sudan was declared to be undergoing a famine in February 2017 and only recently, thanks to human aid, is no longer classified as undergoing famine, according to a BBC report. According to the UN-backed Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), 1.7 million people in South Sudan are still facing emergency levels of hunger, one step below famine. As of May 2017, 5.5 million people were estimated in to be in food insecurity “Crisis”, with risk expected to rise to six million this month. 

After South Sudan, Liberia, Malawi, Burundi, and Sierra Leone have the next highest prevalence of food insecurity among households with children, each with more than 80 per cent of households with children facing moderate to severe food insecurity.  The countries recording the least food insecurity prevalence in the study were Japan, Bhutan, Singapore, Sweden, and the Republic of Korea, each with prevalence of food insecurity at or under five per cent. India represents the largest burden of food insecurity for children under 15, accounting for 17.16 per cent of all food insecurity measured across 147 countries, with nearly 104 million (For this part of the analysis, we used food security instead of food insecurity to better show the relationship) children under 15 in India registering moderate to severe food insecurity. Here, the study reveals that while the total number of children under 15 in India with moderate to severe food insecurity represents the highest burden in 147 countries and four territories observed, the prevalence of food insecurity in India is not as high compared to many other countries.

Data visualization: Prevalence and Burden of Moderate to Severe Food Insecurity among Households with Children by Country

Data visualization: Prevalence and Burden of Moderate to Severe Food Insecurity among Households with Children View the Data Visualization.

Prevalence is mapped in blue from light to dark, with greater prevalence of food insecurity indicated by the darker countries on the map.

Burden is visualized for each country with a yellow bubble over the respective country, with greater burden of food insecurity indicated by larger bubbles.

In the context of this study, prevalence is defined as the extent of food insecurity measured as a proportion of the population. Here, it measures households with children who are food insecure as a proportion of all households with children, for each country. Burden is the number of children under 15 who live in food insecure households in each country.


Prevalence and Burden by Region

This chart shows prevalence and burden of food insecurity measured by the study, clustered by region. The data demonstrates the prevalence of food insecurity in households with children under age 15 (solid blue line) is higher than prevalence in all households (dashed line). While the map visualizes burden of food insecurity in bubbles by size, this chart shows the burden by household type (with and without children).  Overall burden of food insecurity is shown by the clustered bars, with burden for households with children under age 15 (purple bars), households without children (blue bars), and the total number in millions making up the total burden for all food insecurity regionally. In all regions, prevalence of food insecurity among households with children is higher than food insecurity among all households.

A woman and her children carry sacks of maize home from a small farm where they work in exchange for food, in the village of Chipumi, Malawi.

The research also looks at income as a determinant of food security over time and demonstrates the relationship between household income per capita and food security (So the prevalence is among children who live in food insecure households, but the burden is the number of children U15) for all households and for households with children under age 15. The data reveal that prevalence of food security decreases after 2007 in all households following the onset of the Great Recession, while sensitivity of food security to income peaks slightly in 2008 and remains fairly constant until 2011, when sensitivity to income increases.

This paper is a first step in quantifying the extent of food insecurity among households with children, on a global scale as well as regionally. It also aims to motivate continued global efforts to monitor and address progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goal to end hunger (SDG 2). Further research to better distinguish between food insecurity in adults and children is needed to better address mitigating child hunger.

[1] The NX Index is in the core GWP questionnaire, and is a composite measure of respondents’ negative experiences from the day before the survey, relating to five feelings: physical pain; worry; sadness; stress; and anger.

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P. 77-78).6- Traoré, M., Thompson, B. & Thomas, G. 2012. Sustainable nutrition security. Restoring the bridge between agriculture and health. Rome, IT: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.7- Uusiku, N. P., Oelofse, A., Duodu, K. G., Bester, M. J. & Faber, M. 2010. Nutritional value of leafy vegetables of sub-Saharan Africa and their potential contribution to human health: A review. Journal of food composition and Analysis, 23(6):499-509.
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