Hunger in the US and Europe – the fuel for social unrest

Illustration of starvation in northern Sweden

Starvation in Sweden

The contradiction between between the have and the have-nots is becoming increasingly salient worldwide. The UN commitment to end poverty and the millennium goals have been in place for the last eleven years and with only four years to go it does not seem to be going in the right direction.

While we normally associate poverty and hunger with countries outside the western world we have a growing number of people who experience starvation. At the same time we se a similar increase in people who are obese and suffer from malnutrition.

The worldwide nearly doubled between 1980 and 2008. According to country estimates for 2008, over 50% of both men and women in the WHO European Region were overweight, and roughly 23% of women and 20% of men were obese.

The Estimated number of overweight infants and children in the WHO European Region rose steadily from 1990 to 2008. Over 60% of children who are overweight before puberty will be overweight in early adulthood.

While the numbers for starving people in Europe is hard come by there are a growing concern that real starvation will occur on a growing scale especially in relation to the weak economies in the euro and the countries that stand outside the EU.

If one looks at the capacity of a country to cope with these kind of stains one can just look at the US were. There has been a similar trend over the past 20 years, have been a dramatic increase in obesity. In 2010, not a single state had a prevalence of obesity less than 20%. Thirty-six states had a prevalence of 25% or more; 12 of these states (Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia) had a prevalence of 30% or more.

In contrast to these numbers there were in 2010, 85.5 percent of U.S. households that were food secure throughout the entire year meaning that they had a steady supply of food. The remaining 14.5 percent were food insecure at least some time during that year. This meant that around 45 million US citizens did not have a steady inflow of food over the year.

In 2010, 5.4 percent of households experienced food insecurity in the more severe range, described as very low food security.

There is no doubt that there are real issues to be handled but it does not seem like it is a matter of supply as we have seen elsewhere in the world. Rather it is a problem of distribution and nutrition, which from a societal point of view is much worse as it threatens the ability of a community to keep its structural integrity. As we see uprisings in London, Madrid, Athens and the central issue is the uneven distribution of resources and while the central theme seems to be around monetary funds it would seem that the availability of food might be the next big thing to fight over.

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