Health and Nutrition Fund

What Is Child Hunger?

Thinking of child hunger may bring to mind vivid pictures of malnourished and hungry children in Africa, but that is a narrow picture of poverty and hunger. Child hunger reaches further and deeper into a child’s life and into society,

Child hunger is a systemic issue affecting tens of millions of children throughout the world, but disproportionately harming children in low- and middle-income countries.

Child hunger also contributes to a generational cycle of poverty. Hungry children have difficulty focusing in the classroom or learning life skills, which makes it harder for them to get a job and provide for a family as an adult. This, in turn, can lead to more child poverty and more hungry kids facing the same situation in the future.

Child hunger doesn’t actually refer to a grumbling belly caused by a missed meal. Rather, it relates to a child experiencing food insecurity — going without food consistently and becoming undernourished or malnourished. In the context of global poverty, chronic undernourishment is synonymous with hunger.1

A child is undernourished or malnourished when his or her intake of vitamins and minerals is less than what it needs to be for healthy growth and development.

Why Is Child Hunger a Problem?

Child hunger is a problem because tens of millions of infants, toddlers and children around the world lack adequate access to safe and nutritious food all year round.

Child hunger is a problem because 45% of deaths among children under 5 years of age are linked to undernutrition.2

Child hunger is a problem because after decades of steady decline, hunger in the world is increasing again.

Child hunger is a problem because children who experience food insecurity in their first years of life are more likely to lag behind their peers in developing socially, emotionally and cognitively. And once they fall behind, hungry children tend to stay behind developmentally, even when food security is no longer an issue.

Food insecurity affects families when they don’t have the physical access or financial ability to get safe, nutritious food in sufficient amounts to meet the dietary needs and food preferences for each family member to live an active and healthy life.

What Causes Child Hunger?

Poverty is a root cause of child hunger. When a family lives on less than $2.15 per day — the economic definition of poverty — they are usually unable to meet their basic needs. They have difficult choices to make, like whether it's more important to feed their children or keep a roof over their heads.

Infectious diseases also cause children to go hungry. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic worsened child hunger and malnutrition when it forced more than 1 billion children out of school and deprived them of access to regular nutritious meals.3

War and armed conflict lead to widespread hunger as well. Fighting destroys homes and infrastructure, displaces people, disrupts markets and economies, affects food production and distribution, and leaves the poor more vulnerable than before.

Anything that drives food prices up contributes to the problem of child hunger. Poor families that rely on cheaper, less nutritious food are further marginalized by economic slowdowns and supply chain disruptions.

For instance, in 2022 as countries were starting to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, world food prices surged. Low-income countries that were already struggling to recover have been hit hardest by skyrocketing food prices on staples they previously relied on, such as wheat and vegetable oils.3

Environmental conditions such as drought, famine and pests devastate crops and affect food availability and access. According to the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, “The biggest locust invasion in 70 years in Africa ... [threatening] to push 25 million East Africans into hunger by devastating food sources and costing billions of dollars in crop damage.”3

What Are the Effects of Child Hunger?

Child poverty not only uses hunger to kill; it uses hunger to arrest a child’s development and to imprison generations.

A young body that receives the necessary food and nutrition needed to grow and thrive develops a strong brain architecture to fully and properly support a child’s physical, social and emotional development.

Without adequate nutrition, a child’s immune system gets compromised, allowing the child to be more easily affected by disease and injury.

Children 5 years of age and younger are especially vulnerable to the effects of poverty, hunger and malnutrition, including:

  • Wasting, stunting and underweight.
  • Greater susceptibility to infection.
  • Diabetes and other diet-related noncommunicable diseases such as heart disease and some cancers.
  • Impaired speech.
  • Damage to the brain and other organs.

How Compassion Helps Fight Child Hunger

When children do not have enough food to eat, or the food that is available to them lacks nutritional value, malnourishment and chronic health issues become life-threatening realities.

To fight this, we partner with local churches around the world to implement early intervention health and nutrition initiatives providing individualized care and attention to millions of children living in poverty.

Forty-seven million children suffer from severe malnutrition every year.4

Our frontline church partners are trained to recognize the signs of malnutrition in children facing hunger and to take immediate action to address it. Often that includes an emergency feeding nutrition assistance program and vitamin supplements, as well as working with the child’s caregivers to provide additional nutrition assistance and guidance to ensure meals at home meet nutritional needs.

Our church partners also provide children in our Child Sponsorship Program with regular nutritious meals and snacks on program activity days while teaching the children about healthful and balanced diets. They also teach the children how to make healthy food decisions when not at the program.

By giving to our Health and Nutrition Fund, or by sponsoring a child, you help safeguard children from illnesses that hamper development and threaten their lives. With your support, we can provide poor children around the world the nutritious food, supplemental nutrition assistance, medical care, and health and hygiene training they need to survive and thrive.

Help Protect a Child Living in Poverty From Hunger and Malnutrition. Sponsor a Child Today.

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1 FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO. 2020. The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2020. Transforming food systems for affordable healthy diets. Rome, FAO.

2 “Fact Sheets - Malnutrition.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, 1 Apr. 2020,

3 Lee, Sung. “COVID-19 Brief: Impact on Food Security.” U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, USGLC, 6 Apr. 2021,

4 “3 Million Kids Die Every Year From Hunger. We Must Feed Them.” World Food Program USA, 4 Mar. 2021,