Q2 – Hunger

This question was asked to the public in Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark and the UK in the Sustainable Development Misconception Study 2020

In December 2020 Gapminder launches a brand new service for upgrading your worldview, where you will be able to take this (and many other) tests and become certified gapm.io/upgrader


What share of the world’s population don’t have enough food to meet their daily needs?

a) Around 11%

b) Around 23%

c) Around 37%

Correct answer

Around 11% of the world’s population don’t have enough food. 

People have too many starving in their heads

Most of us don’t want to trivialize suffering and it’s common that people overestimate the numbers when guessing about any kind of victims. It can have the unintended consequence of ruining our hope if the problem ends up seeming larger than it actually is.

In 2019, around 9% of the world population (690 million people) didn’t have enough food. In 2020 it is estimated to have increased to 11%, because of increased poverty caused by the Corona Pandemic. Now that we hear that hunger increasing in the world, we might think the problem is too big to be solved. But, even after the increase, the number of people in need is still much smaller than most people believe it is, and ending hunger is much more doable than people imagine.

Read more about hunger at FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations)

Data Sources

The estimates of undernourishment in 2019 are far from exact, and the increase of 83-132 million hungry people during the Corona Pandemic is very hard to know for sure [1]. But even if the correct answer 11% is just an estimate, the wrong options are definitely not correct.

We have checked these assumptions against three different methods to estimate hunger based on three different kinds of data: 1. Available food, 2. Body weights and heights of children, 3. Extreme poverty. Each of  these datasets have large uncertainties, but the estimates for wasted children (6.9% in 2019) and extreme poverty (9.4% in 2020) are both lower than 11%, which indicates that hunger is probably in that range, and certainly not as high as the wrong option to this question of 23%.

FAO[1] estimates the number of hungry people based on the number of calories available in each country each year, as documented in food balance sheets. These calories are then assumed to be purchased by the population based on the income of people, which in 2019 results in a rough estimate of the number of people who couldn’t afford enough food of 8.9% of the world population.

One measure of child malnutrition is wasting: the share of children with low body weight for height (indicating thinness). In 2019 the global wasting number was 6.9% of all children under age five, according to UNICEF, WHO and the World Bank [2]. This estimate indicates how many families who often experience food shortage.

The number of people in extreme poverty, with less than $1.90/day, is estimated to increase to around 9.4% in 2020, according to the World Bank[3], calculated from data based on household income surveys from recent years and taking into account the corona pandemic effect.

Source 1 – Hunger estimate from The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2020, by UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization FAO, together with IFAD, UNICEF, WFP & WHO

Source 2 – Wasting data from Joint Child Malnutrition estimates by UNICEF, WHO and the World Bank

Source 3 –  Expected extreme poverty increase from COVID-19, by the World Bank, October 2020