Though still low in Europe and Central Asia, hunger rates worsened by pandemic impacts – World

FAO releases new data and analysis on the state of hunger and malnutrition in the region in a shorter and tighter format

Budapest, Hungary The rates of undernourishment and severe and moderate food insecurity in Europe and Central Asia are, on average, much lower than in the rest of the world.

However, more than 14 million people became moderately or severely food insecure from 2019 to 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Moreover, with overweight and obesity further outnumbering the global – and rising – the region’s 50-plus countries must renew their commitments to end hunger and malnutrition by 2030, as envisaged in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The latest data and trends can now be accessed in the Regional Review of Food Security and Nutrition in Europe and Central Asia, released by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

In the past two decades, countries in the Europe and Central Asia region have made great progress in combating undernourishment. Globally, the number of people with inadequate food consumption increased from 8.4% in 2019 to 9.9% in 2020, while in Europe and Central Asia, the regional average has remained below 2.5% – where it has been for nearly two decades.

However, this figure masks subregional differences: while the number is low in the EU and EFTA and among European countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States, small increases have been observed in the Caucasus, Central Asia and the Western Balkans in the past two years.

“The epidemic has had a negative impact on food security in the ECA region,” said FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative Vladimir Rakhmanin in the introduction to the publication. In light of this, the report seeks to assess how food security and nutrition indicators in the region, sub-region, and countries have changed in the light of the pandemic and to monitor progress in the region towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Globally, the year 2020 was marked by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting disruptions to markets, trade and food supply chains. In Europe and Central Asia, the number of severely food insecure people increased by 7 million in 2020 to 22 million (or about 2.4 percent of the population), while those with moderate or severe food insecurity (lack of safe, nutritious and adequate food) by 14 million to 111 million (11.9% of the total population). While this is a regional average, the proportions in the Western Balkans, Central Asia, and the Caucasus are higher.

“With epidemic policy responses varying greatly according to each country’s level of wealth and political will, national and subregional disparities in access to food and nutrition are sure to increase,” Rachmanin said. “This must be addressed to ensure that ECA is moving forward with achieving enough food and nutrition for all, with a pledge not to leave anyone behind.”

A closer look at nutrition indicators

Progress has been made in reducing various forms of malnutrition, including (in most countries of the region) child stunting, child wasting and low birth weight. However, Europe and Central Asia are worse off in terms of exclusive breastfeeding, overweight in children, and obesity in adults. The data and trends are particularly concerning with regard to obesity in adults in all subregions, and the epidemic may exacerbate the problem. Despite recent improvements in reducing overweight among children, the region, at 7.1 percent, is still above the world average.

“Even before the epidemic, the situation in the Caucasus and Central Asia was already weak and became more severe in 2020,” said Cheng Fang, an economist at FAO and lead author of the report. “The resilience of the entire region depends on a strong effort in these vulnerable subregions. The increasing rate of adult obesity, for example, is a problem not only in high-income countries, but also in low- and middle-income countries in the region.”

The prevalence of anemia among women of childbearing age has remained in recent years at 17.4 percent, as in 2000, with rates higher in some Caucasus and Central Asian countries near or even higher than the global average of 29.9 percent. With regard to exclusive breastfeeding, the region – particularly the Caucasus subregion and Central Asia – has made significant progress (from 31.1 percent to 41.7 percent from 2012 to 2019), although the prevalence remains below the global average.

Global data for low birth weight have shown a steady decline since 2000, and the regional trend appears to have followed the same – but slow – pattern, with regional prevalence (6.9 percent) about half the global level. In the region, neither high-income nor low-income countries have significantly reduced the prevalence of low birth weight.

More details are available in the 2021 regional edition of the FAO flagship report, which, using the latest hunger and malnutrition data, tracks progress in Europe and Central Asia towards achieving global sustainability goals, with particular regard to the Zero Hunger targets of Goal 2 sustainable development goals. .


Leah Plantic
Communications Specialist, FAO Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia

Victoria Kalinin
Communications Officer, Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia
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