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October 16 was World Food Day. Worldwide, 925 million people do not have enough to eat, and 98% of those who are affected by food insecurity live in developing countries. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that in 2009, approximately 1 billion people worldwide were undernourished. While nutrition and food insecurity are not often discussed in the context of youth sexual and reproductive health, food insecurity has devastating effects on the lives of adolescents and can exacerbate many negative and sexual reproductive health outcomes among this age group.
Globally, adolescent females are at a greater risk of poor nutrition than adolescent males. According to this year’s State of the World’s Children Report, Adolescence in an Age of Opportunity, there is “a considerably higher incidence of anemia among female adolescents aged 15–19 as compared to their male counterparts.” In some countries, as many as half of the girls between the ages of 15 and 19 are anemic, and many more are underweight. The highest prevalence of underweight adolescent girls is inIndia, where 47% of girls are underweight. The implications of hunger for adolescent girls are serious, beyond the obvious health-related repercussions. For example, in developing countries, where many girls face high rates of early marriage and unintended pregnancy, poor nutrition increases the risk of maternal death or morbidity.
Food insecurity also has important implications for HIV prevention. According to OVC Support.net, lack of food security may lead to:
- Increased sexual risk-taking behavior, including transactional sex or intergenerational sex
- Increased school dropout
- Increased stress on traditional support networks
The effects of hunger on adolescents can be far-reaching, and the prevalence of poor nutrition among this age group puts young people at a greater risk of negative sexual and reproductive health outcomes. In honor of this year’s World Food Day, spread the word about the link between hunger and adolescent sexual and reproductive health and consider making a donation to your local food bank.
To learn more about World Food Day, visit the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nation’s World Food Day web page.