Malnutrition and hidden hunger

Full but not healthy

It is paradoxical: Even someone who has sufficient food can suffer from hunger. Two billion people globally suffer from hidden hunger.

Many different crops lie alongside one another. The Adivasi in the Indian Odisha are themselves astounded by the many wild local plants. © Brockmann
Diversity on the table: The Adivasi in the Indian Odisha are themselves astounded by the many wild local plants. © Brockmann

(13/10/2014) The sight of this treasure impresses even the village residents: in front of them they have spread out 260 different foods, all grown wild in their locality, the woods of the west Indian regional capital Odisha. Tubers and roots, mushrooms, fruits, green leafy vegetables, herbs, fish, crabs and snails, plus locally cultivated cereals, beans and lentils. They have almost forgotten these foods, the nutritional situation of the Adivasi of Odisha is very poor.

Pregnant women and young children need vitamins and minerals

Globally, almost every third person suffers from an under provision of vitamins and minerals. The symptoms are unspecific: fatigue, loss of appetite, exhaustion, susceptibility to infections or skin diseases. As a result, many people do not recognise the deficiency, but suffer their whole life from the consequences. Pregnant women and breast-feeding mothers, as well children in their first 1000 days of life between conception and their second birthday have a particular need. High infant and mother mortality can also be traced back to hidden hunger. The deficiency weakens the immune system and can, in combination with general undernourishment, lead to physical disabilities and limited mental development.

The graphic from the GHI 2014 shows the Welthungerhilfe programme area in India and the region of Odisha in the East.
The Welthungerhilfe programme area in India, a graphic from the GHI 2014.

Quality and quantity: securing nutrition with good food

Beyond the acute emergency situation, hidden hunger can only be overcome when the causative problems are solved:

  • Governments and development organisations must align their measures towards the improvement of food security, through cross-sector approaches.

  • Alongside access to adequate food and sufficient quantity, the quality of food, i.e. the diversity of nutrition, must at long last be supported and local food systems strengthened.

  • In order that healthy food practices are not undercut by the marketing strategies of the food industry, governments must adopt international codes of conduct into their national legislation and take on the recommendations of the World Health Organisation on the marketing of breast milk substitutes, as well as the marketing of foods with high fat, salt and sugar content to children and enforce adherance to these regulations.

Welthungerhilfe focuses on food security and the intensive use of locally-available food crops, so that more people like the Adivasi in Odisha can rediscover the treasures in their region.

Ute Latzke is an employee of Welthungerhilfe in Bonn. The unabridged article can be found in the journal Welternährung 3/2014 (in German only).

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Ute Latzke

Ute Latzke



Further information

Figures, reports and documents on global hunger


Hunger on the international agenda

Hunger on the international agenda


Hunger on the international agenda

From 19th to 21st November in Rome the 2nd International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) will take place under the leadership of the FAO and WHO. We will present the results of the Global Hunger Index.