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Concept: Famine


The role of genetically modified (GM) crops for food security is the subject of public controversy. GM crops could contribute to food production increases and higher food availability. There may also be impacts on food quality and nutrient composition. Finally, growing GM crops may influence farmers' income and thus their economic access to food. Smallholder farmers make up a large proportion of the undernourished people worldwide. Our study focuses on this latter aspect and provides the first ex post analysis of food security impacts of GM crops at the micro level. We use comprehensive panel data collected over several years from farm households in India, where insect-resistant GM cotton has been widely adopted. Controlling for other factors, the adoption of GM cotton has significantly improved calorie consumption and dietary quality, resulting from increased family incomes. This technology has reduced food insecurity by 15-20% among cotton-producing households. GM crops alone will not solve the hunger problem, but they can be an important component in a broader food security strategy.

Concepts: Famine, Food security, Agriculture, Food, Household income in the United States, Food industry, Genetically modified food, Malnutrition


Household food insecurity, a measure of income-related problems of food access, is growing in Canada and is tightly linked to poorer health status. We examined the association between household food insecurity status and annual health care costs.

Concepts: The Association, Famine, Food security, Health care


In September 2011, a total of 511 human cases of anthrax (Bacillus anthracis) infection and 5 deaths were reported in a game management area in the district of Chama, Zambia, near where 85 hippopotamuses (Hippopotamus amphibious) had recently died of suspected anthrax. The human infections generally responded to antibiotics. To clarify transmission, we conducted a cross-sectional, interviewer-administered household survey in villages where human anthrax cases and hippopotamuses deaths were reported. Among 284 respondents, 84% ate hippopotamus meat before the outbreak. Eating, carrying, and preparing meat were associated with anthrax infection. Despite the risk, 23% of respondents reported they would eat meat from hippopotamuses found dead again because of food shortage (73%), lack of meat (12%), hunger (7%), and protein shortage (5%). Chronic food insecurity can lead to consumption of unsafe foods, leaving communities susceptible to zoonotic infection. Interagency cooperation is necessary to prevent outbreaks by addressing the root cause of exposure, such as food insecurity.

Concepts: Death, Famine, Bacillus, Bacillus anthracis, Disease, Bacteria, Food, Anthrax


Climate change is predicted to expand the ice-free season in western Hudson Bay and when it grows to 180 days, 28-48% of adult male polar bears are projected to starve unless nutritional deficits can be offset by foods consumed on land. We updated a dynamic energy budget model developed by Molnar et al. to allow influx of additional energy from novel terrestrial foods (lesser snow geese, eggs, caribou) that polar bears currently consume as part of a mixed diet while on land. We calculated the units of each prey, alone and in combination, needed to alleviate these lethal energy deficits under conditions of resting or limited movement (2 km d-1) prior to starvation. We further considered the total energy available from each sex and age class of each animal prey over the period they would overlap land-bound polar bears and calculated the maximum number of starving adult males that could be sustained on each food during the ice-free season. Our results suggest that the net energy from land-based food, after subtracting costs of limited movement to obtain it, could eliminate all projected nutritional deficits of starving adult male polar bears and likely other demographic groups as well. The hunting tactics employed, success rates as well as behavior and abundance of each prey will determine the realized energetic values for individual polar bears. Although climate change may cause a phenological mismatch between polar bears and their historical ice-based prey, it may simultaneously yield a new match with certain land-based foods. If polar bears can transition their foraging behavior to effectively exploit these resources, predictions for starvation-related mortality may be overestimated for western Hudson Bay. We also discuss potential complications with stable-carbon isotope studies to evaluate utilization of land-based foods by polar bears including metabolic effects of capture-related stress and consuming a mixed diet.

Concepts: Carbohydrate, Potential energy, Kinetic energy, Famine, Polar bear, Energy, Malnutrition, Metabolism


The narrowing of diversity in crop species contributing to the world’s food supplies has been considered a potential threat to food security. However, changes in this diversity have not been quantified globally. We assess trends over the past 50 y in the richness, abundance, and composition of crop species in national food supplies worldwide. Over this period, national per capita food supplies expanded in total quantities of food calories, protein, fat, and weight, with increased proportions of those quantities sourcing from energy-dense foods. At the same time the number of measured crop commodities contributing to national food supplies increased, the relative contribution of these commodities within these supplies became more even, and the dominance of the most significant commodities decreased. As a consequence, national food supplies worldwide became more similar in composition, correlated particularly with an increased supply of a number of globally important cereal and oil crops, and a decline of other cereal, oil, and starchy root species. The increase in homogeneity worldwide portends the establishment of a global standard food supply, which is relatively species-rich in regard to measured crops at the national level, but species-poor globally. These changes in food supplies heighten interdependence among countries in regard to availability and access to these food sources and the genetic resources supporting their production, and give further urgency to nutrition development priorities aimed at bolstering food security.

Concepts: Famine, Security, Globalization, Nutrition, Green Revolution, Food security, Agriculture, Food


The major components of human diet both past and present may be estimated by measuring the carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios (δ13C and δ15N) of the collagenous proteins in bone and tooth dentine. However, the results from these two tissues differ substantially: bone collagen records a multi-year average whilst primary dentine records and retains time-bound isotope ratios deriving from the period of tooth development. Recent studies harnessing a sub-annual temporal sampling resolution have shed new light on the individual dietary histories of our ancestors by identifying unexpected radical short-term dietary changes, the duration of breastfeeding and migration where dietary change occurs, and by raising questions regarding factors other than diet that may impact on δ13C and δ15N values. Here we show that the dentine δ13C and δ15N profiles of workhouse inmates dating from the Great Irish Famine of the 19th century not only record the expected dietary change from C3 potatoes to C4 maize, but when used together they also document prolonged nutritional and other physiological stress resulting from insufficient sustenance. In the adults, the influence of the maize-based diet is seen in the δ13C difference between dentine (formed in childhood) and rib (representing an average from the last few years of life). The demonstrated effects of stress on the δ13C and δ15N values will have an impact on the interpretations of diet in past populations even in slow-turnover tissues such as compact bone. This technique also has applicability in the investigation of modern children subject to nutritional distress where hair and nails are unavailable or do not record an adequate period of time.

Concepts: Isotope analysis, Bone, Great Famine, Famine, Nutrition, Time, Protein, Collagen


Food insecurity and hunger during childhood are associated with an array of developmental problems in multiple domains, including impulse control problems and violence. Unfortunately, extant research is based primarily on small convenience samples and an epidemiological assessment of the hunger-violence link is lacking. The current study employed data from Wave 1 (2001-2002) and Wave 2 (2004-2005) of the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC). The NESARC is a nationally representative sample of non-institutionalized U.S. residents aged 18 years and older. Participants who experienced frequent hunger during childhood had significantly greater impulsivity, worse self-control, and greater involvement in several forms of interpersonal violence. These effects were stronger among whites, Hispanics, and males. The findings support general theoretical models implicating impulse control problems as a key correlate of crime and violence and add another facet to the importance of ameliorating food neglect in the United States.

Concepts: Epidemiology, Violent crime, Domestic violence, Crime, Famine, Child abuse, United States


Water scarcity is a rapidly growing concern around the globe, but little is known about how it has developed over time. This study provides a first assessment of continuous sub-national trajectories of blue water consumption, renewable freshwater availability, and water scarcity for the entire 20(th) century. Water scarcity is analysed using the fundamental concepts of shortage (impacts due to low availability per capita) and stress (impacts due to high consumption relative to availability) which indicate difficulties in satisfying the needs of a population and overuse of resources respectively. While water consumption increased fourfold within the study period, the population under water scarcity increased from 0.24 billion (14% of global population) in the 1900s to 3.8 billion (58%) in the 2000s. Nearly all sub-national trajectories show an increasing trend in water scarcity. The concept of scarcity trajectory archetypes and shapes is introduced to characterize the historical development of water scarcity and suggest measures for alleviating water scarcity and increasing sustainability. Linking the scarcity trajectories to other datasets may help further deepen understanding of how trajectories relate to historical and future drivers, and hence help tackle these evolving challenges.

Concepts: Trajectory, Scarcity, World population, Water crisis, Famine, Food security, Force, 20th century


One in seven US households cannot reliably afford food. Food budgets are more frequently exhausted at the end of a month than at other points in time. We postulated that this monthly pattern influenced health outcomes, such as risk for hypoglycemia among people with diabetes. Using administrative data on inpatient admissions in California for 2000-08, we found that admissions for hypoglycemia were more common in the low-income than the high-income population (270 versus 200 admissions per 100,000). Risk for hypoglycemia admission increased 27 percent in the last week of the month compared to the first week in the low-income population, but we observed no similar temporal variation in the high-income population. These findings suggest that exhaustion of food budgets might be an important driver of health inequities. Policy solutions to improve stable access to nutrition in low-income populations and raise awareness of the health risks of food insecurity might be warranted.

Concepts: Population, Fatigue, Food, Famine, Food security, World population, Demography, Nutrition


Achieving global food security is one of the major challenges of the coming decades. In order to tackle future food security challenges we must understand the past. This study presents a historical analysis of global food availability, one of the key elements of food security. By calculating national level dietary energy supply and production for nine time steps during 1965-2005 we classify countries based on their food availability, food self-sufficiency and food trade. We also look at how diets have changed during this period with regard to supply of animal based calories. Our results show that food availability has increased substantially both in absolute and relative terms. The percentage of population living in countries with sufficient food supply (>2500 kcal/cap/d) has almost doubled from 33% in 1965 to 61% in 2005. The population living with critically low food supply (<2000 kcal/cap/d) has dropped from 52% to 3%. Largest improvements are seen in the MENA region, Latin America, China and Southeast Asia. Besides, the composition of diets has changed considerably within the study period: the world population living with high supply of animal source food (>15% of dietary energy supply) increased from 33% to over 50%. While food supply has increased globally, food self-sufficiency (domestic production>2500 kcal/cap/d) has not changed remarkably. In the beginning of the study period insufficient domestic production meant insufficient food supply, but in recent years the deficit has been increasingly compensated by rising food imports. This highlights the growing importance of food trade, either for food supply in importing countries or as a source of income for exporters. Our results provide a basis for understanding past global food system dynamics which, in turn, can benefit research on future food security.

Concepts: Globalization, International trade, Diets, Famine, Green Revolution, Agriculture, World population, Food security