59M Filipinos experienced 'food insecurity,' highest in Southeast Asia — UN report

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 16) — The Philippines recorded the most number of food insecure people in Southeast Asia in 2017 to 2019, with 59 million Filipinos suffering from moderate to severe lack of consistent access to food, a United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization report showed.

The number of severe and moderately food insecure Filipinos climbed from 44.9 million recorded in 2014 to 2016, according to the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report released Wednesday.

FAO defines the severely food insecure as those who have gone a day or days without eating, due to lack of money and other resources, while the moderately food insecure are people who have "experienced uncertainties about their ability to obtain food, and have been forced to compromise on the quantity/quality of the food they consume."

In 2017 to 2019, at least 18.8 million Filipinos went hungry or suffered severe food insecurity -- a jump from 12.4 million recorded in 2014 to 2016, the report showed.

In Southeast Asia, Indonesia — the most populous country in the region with more than double the Philippines' populations -- comes second with 18.7 million food insecure people in 2017-2019. It is followed by Cambodia with 7.2 million; Malaysia with 4.7 million; Vietnam with 6 million and Singapore with 300 million.

However, food insecurity data for Timor-Leste, Brunei, Thailand, Laos and Myanmar are unavailable.

Meanwhile, FAO noted with 'alarm' the growing number of food insecure people globally, except in Europe and northern America, since 2014.

In 2019 alone, FAO’s latest estimates suggest that 9.7 percent of the world population or a little less than 750 million people have been food insecure, which increase their risk of different types of malnutrition, potentially leading to obesity. FAO warned that the COVID-19 pandemic may also push the number to 'much higher levels.'

Citing the World Health Organization, FAO said a healthy diet, which relies on mostly plant-based foods, "would protect against malnutrition in all its forms, as well as non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer."

However, "most of the poor around the world cannot afford" the cost of nutritious food options, which may be generally expensive in lower-middle-income countries, such as the Philippines, than in upper-middle-income countries, FAO said.

It added that "there is strong evidence that the higher prices of healthy food options – and cheaper, less nutritious food options – are contributing to the growing trend of overweight and obesity."

But the organization pointed out that "changes in relative prices between energy-dense foods of minimal nutritional value and healthy food options make a difference," with the strongest effects seen among people with low incomes.

The severity of food insecurity was measured based on the data FAO collected using its Food Insecurity Experience Scale survey module, which is composed of eight questions on “conditions and experiences typically associated with limited access to food.”