Human beings have evolved in a hostile environment in which food has always been scarce. It is only in the last half-century, and only in Western Europe, North America and Australasia, that there is a surplus of food. Food is still desperately short in much of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Even without all too frequent droughts, floods and other disasters there is scarcely enough food produced world-wide to feed all the people of the world.
As shown in Figure 8.1, world food production has more than kept pace with population growth over the last four decades, so that most countries now have more food available per head of population than in the 1960s. This is total food potentially available, and does not take account of wastage and spoilage. It is noteworthy that there is still a twofold difference in food energy available per head of population between the USA (16 MJ/day) and Bangladesh (8 MJ/day).
Despite the advances in food production during the second half of the twentieth century, up to 300 million people are at risk from protein—energy malnutrition in developing countries. More importantly, as shown in Figures 8.2 and 8.3, the world population will increase from the present 6.25 billion to 8 billion by 2021, and most of this increase will be in less developed countries. It is extremely unlikely that food production can be increased to the same extent.
Deficiency of individual nutrients is also a major problem. The total amount of food may be adequate to satisfy hunger, but the quality of the diet is inadequate:
Deficiency of other vitamins and minerals also occurs, and can be an important cause of ill-health. Sometimes this is the result of an acute exacerbation of a marginal food shortage, as in the outbreaks of the niacin deficiency disease pellagra reported in east and southern Africa during the 1980s (section 11.8.4); sometimes it is a problem
of immigrant populations living in a new environment, where familiar foods are not readily available and foods that are available are unfamiliar.
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