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Nonfiction in response to Zero Hunger
February 2018
By Karen Wu
CC Image courtesy of organic&

Malnutrition is a problem that people typically think of as belonging to third-world countries. But what if I told you that first-world countries, too, suffer from that problem? “Hidden hunger” is a form of malnutrition where, while you do eat, the food you eat isn’t good for you. Unfortunately, this problem greatly affects the poor population, and can cause a host of problems.


A British study showed that many poorer people eat food that simply provides “cheap energy.” This consists mainly of foods like full cream milk, sugars, cereals and meat products, with few vegetables, fruit or whole wheat bread. This diet is very low in essential nutrients such as iron, calcium, magnesium, folate, and vitamin C. There have been reports in France showing the same thing among their poor population, despite the fact that the poorest people spend over one fourth of their income on food. A Journal of Nutrition study showed that more than one half of American children do not intake enough of vitamins D and E to be healthy, and more than a quarter do not intake enough vitamin A, magnesium, or calcium. According to EurActiv, in Finland, less than 5% of low-income children consume enough fruits and vegetables. They also got a low amount of fiber, iron, and omega-3s.


This unhealthy diet can cause a lot of health problems. Dr. Pollock, a scientist in a Journal of Immunology study, said, "Our research looked at whether bad diets have consequences before we notice an increase in body weight. And we found that the over consumption of saturated fats is a form of malnutrition: one that needs to be taken seriously." The study found that a bad diet can result in a bad immune system, which would negatively impact health. Diseases caused by not getting enough nutrients (known as micronutrient deficiency diseases) are also very problematic. Some examples are goiter (commonly caused by iodine deficiency), rickets (commonly caused by vitamin D deficiency), and beriberi (a.k.a. thiamine deficiency). An article in The Guardian discussed how damaging hidden hunger can be to children. Babies are especially vulnerable to it. When they are very little, they are in a period where their minds and bodies are intensively growing. Without proper nutrition, they may lag behind their peers in many areas. Undernourished children are also more likely to suffer from illnesses, and as a result, less likely to perform well in school.


Despite all the negative health effects unhealthy foods can bring, some people simply can’t afford healthy food. A study in the British Medical journal that looked at 10 countries showed that less nutritious food is approximately $1.50 cheaper per day. That’s about $550 per year. An article on CNN said that those in the bottom 30% of the income scale in the US make an average of $14,000 a year. The same article said that most poor families spend about 28% of their income on food. Switching to healthy foods would raise that number even more, making it harder for them to meet other needs, such as housing.

Hidden hunger is a pressing problem that harms society. Advanced countries, with supermarkets filled with vegetables and fruit, have the means to help end this form of malnutrition, and they should. One highly effective method is food fortification, which is when vital micronutrients are added to everyday foods like flour or milk. This has caused significant health improvement in the past, as shown in an article by EurActiv. For example, in Switzerland, introducing salt iodization caused a sharp drop in the amount of people with goiter. Another solution is giving lower-income people food coupons specifically for healthy food such as vegetables, making it more accessible. Ultimately, we must take any possible steps needed to end hidden hunger, be it food fortification, healthy food coupons, or something else. One would not expect advanced countries to have any problems feeding its people, but unfortunately, hidden hunger does exist and, like all types of hunger, it is an issue that must be addressed.

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