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Have you ever wondered how #hunger is measured?

Eight questions help provide the answer


18 Feb 2015

In the year 2000, the UN Member States set the eight Millennium Development Goals. One of the most ambitious was to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. As part of this goal, the United Nations General Assembly set a target to halve the proportion of people who suffer from hunger by 2015

But have you ever wondered how hunger is measured in the world?

One indicator used to monitor progress toward the hunger target is the prevalence of undernourishment in the world.  But what does that mean?

Every year, FAO estimates the proportion of people who do not have access to enough food[i].  They do this by using national agricultural and trade statistics from each country to estimate how much food is available and survey data to determine how food consumption varies among families.

This “undernourishment” indicator forms the basis for the “hunger numbers” published every year by FAO as part of the State of Food Insecurity in the World.  This is very useful for monitoring national and regional trends over time, but it relies on data from countries that vary with respect to how current and accurate they are. It also does not reveal which areas and population groups within a country are at a greater risk. 

Something more is needed…

To help fill this gap, we launched the Voices of the Hungry  project (VoH) in 2013.  A new tool has been developed, called the Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES), to provide information about the extent of people’s ability to access food by asking them eight questions.  The questions are based on research showing that people all over the world have a similar experience when their access to food worsens:  they worry about running out of food, change what they eat to make the food last, such as eating the same foods for every meal and cutting portion sizes, and in the worst situations, eat a single meal a day - or nothing at all. 

The questions are:

“During the past 12 months, because of a lack of money or other resources, was there a time when…

1.    You were worried you would run out of food?
2.    You were unable to eat healthy and nutritious food?
3.    You ate only a few kinds of foods?
4.    You had to skip a meal?
5.    You ate less than you thought you should?
6.    Your household ran out of food?
7.    You were hungry but did not eat?
8.    You went without eating for a whole day?

By asking these questions in a survey, we can estimate the proportion of the population in a country that does not have adequate access to food and the severity of their situation.  If enough people are surveyed all over the country, it is also possible to know which areas and population groups face the worst situations.

Learn more about the Voices of the Hungry project.


[i] The reference to determine adequacy is to the amount of dietary energy (calories) that is required for a normally active life.

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