What is Hunger

Everyone feels hungry on a daily basis. Most people are able to satisfy this craving and need. Even if not immediately, they can count on having a meal or snack within hours. This is not the type of hunger that Bread is concerned with.

People who suffer chronic hunger don’t have the option of eating when they are hungry. They do not get enough calories, essential nutrients, or both. People who are hungry have an ongoing problem with getting food to eat. They have a primary need — how to feed themselves and their children today and tomorrow. They have little energy for anything else.

It is commonly known that the cause of hunger in the world is not a shortage of food but rather the access to food. Photo: Laura Pohl/Bread for the World

Access and availability of food

It is commonly known that the cause of hunger in the world is not a shortage of food but rather access to food.

Some people are hungry because food is in short supply in their area and for a specific reason. It may be because they can’t afford to buy enough food. It may be both.

Some countries have a “hunger season” every year. It's when the previous harvest is gone and the next harvest is not yet ready. It can last as long as three or four months.

The U.S. doesn’t have that kind of a hunger season, but for many families, some weeks are hungrier than others. These usually come toward the end of the month, as families run short of food before they have money to buy more. People can’t simply decide to spend less on rent, but if necessary, they can spend less on food.

For many low-wage workers, retirees, people with disabilities, and their families, even careful planning cannot stretch the grocery budget throughout the month. Less expensive — and less nutritious — filler foods can keep children’s stomachs from growling, but they can’t provide what children need to grow and learn. Adults who are missing meals because they can’t afford to buy food can’t concentrate as well at work

People living with food insecurity lack a stable, reliable means of getting the meals they need. Photo: Bread for the World

What is food insecurity?

People in certain conditions, whether they live in the developing world or the United States, are extremely vulnerable to hunger. A month of bad weather for a farmer or an illness for a worker and a loss of income can mean less food and the prospect of hunger.

Food insecurity is the more formal term for this condition. People living with food insecurity lack a stable, reliable means of getting the meals they need.

Bread for the World works toward food security. This means an end not only to chronic hunger and malnutrition, but also to constant worry about where the next meal is coming from.

As the World Food Summit described it, food security is when “all people at all times… have access to sufficient safe and nutritious food… for an active and healthy life.”

Some events, like natural disasters or conflict, are unpreventable and cause hunger. But Bread wants to help end the persistent hunger that exists outside these events.

By far the most dangerous time to suffer from malnutrition is early childhood. Photo: Margie Nea/Bread for the World

What is malnutrition?

Addressing hunger is more than just giving people food and ensuring they have the needed calories. Quantity of food is important, but just as important is quality. When people don’t have the right nutritious food, it’s called malnutrition.

Malnutrition is being poorly nourished, whether undernourished or obese. It’s the result of a combination of problems.

Among the most common are lack of protein and/or essential vitamins and minerals, frequent illnesses, inadequate health care, and unsafe water.

By far the most dangerous time to suffer from malnutrition is early childhood. Photo: Bread for the World

Developmental risks

By far the most dangerous time to suffer from malnutrition is early childhood. Getting insufficient nutrients during the 1,000-day period between pregnancy and age 2 causes damage among children that can last a lifetime.

A visible effect malnutrition in early childhood is stunting — a person who is much shorter than others. But the real problems for stunted children are not visible. People who didn’t get enough nutrients during the 1,000-day window:

  • face lifelong health problems
  • have more difficulty learning in school
  • earn less over their lifetime. They are less able to support their families.
  • have more difficulty bearing and raising healthy children. Their children are more likely to be malnourished in early childhood. And a harmful cycle continues.

Globally, one in four children is stunted. This is a staggering loss of human potential.

If malnutrition persists, it has high costs—in individuals, families, communities, and even whole nations. Photo: Laura Pohl/Bread for the World

High costs of hunger

The effects of hunger and food insecurity can generally be reversed in older children and adults. But too often, people continue to be food-insecure, so the effects continue as well.

Because food is one of our most basic needs as humans, it can affect nearly everything we do. If malnutrition persists, it has high costs — in individuals, families, communities, and even whole nations. And the costs can be visible and invisible.

This is as true in the U.S. as elsewhere. U.S. losses from lower productivity and higher healthcare costs have been estimated in the billions of dollars. Developing countries can lose up to 11 percent of their economic output.

“Hidden hunger” is a term used to describe what happens when people don’t get enough vitamins and minerals.  Photo: Todd Post/Bread for the World

'Hidden hunger'

Hunger does not have to have visible signs to exist. “Hidden hunger” is a term used to describe what happens when people don’t get enough vitamins and minerals. Hidden hunger affects about 30 percent of the world’s population — over 2 billion people. It may be invisible, but it can still affect a person’s health and development.

"Jesus said...'you give them something to eat.'"

Matthew 14:16

Help Women Farmers. Infographic by Doug Puller / Bread for the World

Did you know?

Women are the primary agents the world relies on to end hunger. If they had the same access as men to tools, seeds, land titles, and financial services, then women could grow 30% more food. 

from our Resource Library

For Education

  • The Nourishing Effect

    Hunger and food insecurity add at least $160 billion a year to U.S. healthcare costs.

  • Mind the Gap: Nutrition to Bridge Humanitarian and Development Efforts

    By Jordan Teague

    Because the world has made so much progress against hunger in recent decades, those who face hunger, malnutrition, and extreme poverty are increasingly likely to live in areas currently experiencing or recovering from crises. They are the hardest to reach and the most...

  • International Development Association (IDA) and Nutrition

    Improving maternal and child nutrition is the most cost-effective investment in international human and economic development.

    Improving nutrition not only alleviates human suffering, but also improves the conditions that create poverty in the first place. For every $1 invested in...

For Faith

  • The Bible on Health as a Hunger Issue

    A brief examination of the biblical approach to health as a hunger issue.

    Includes an introduction to the issue, a Scriptural reflection, practical actions you can take, and a prayer.

  • Bread Newsletter January 2016

    In this issue: Another Great Year for Bread; Catholics Begin Observance of Holy Year of Mercy; Serving on ‘God’s Wave Length’ for 39 Years; and more.

  • Interfaith Religious Leaders’ Pledge to End Hunger

    A wide array of the nation’s faith leaders have come together on the eve of Pope Francis’ arrival in the United States to commit ourselves to encourage our communities to work for the end of hunger by 2030 and, toward that end, for a shift in U.S. national priorities.

    We are deeply pleased...

For Advocacy

  • Grassroots Advocacy Toolkit

    A set of how-to sheets for carrying out advocacy and fact sheets on the current issues Bread for the World is working on.

    For new and current Bread grassroots hunger activists.

    Ideal as a starter toolkit for new Bread activists or as a set of updates for current activists.


  • Health Care Is a Hunger Issue

    Learn more about the principles that Bread for the World supports regarding health reform.

  • El Dream Act de 2017 (S. 1615 & H.R. 3440)

    Estados Unidos es una nación de inmigrantes. A través de su historia gente de todas partes del mundo se han trasladado aquí y han contribuido en sus comunidades y a nuestra vida nacional. Hoy, al igual que en el pasado, los inmigrantes continúan creando prosperidad y enriquecimiento para esta...


Changing Climate, Changing Farmers

February 7, 2017


Running their own lives

September 15, 2017

From the Blog