Hunger and Malnutrition (Grades 3-5)
Students investigate the importance of eating a variety of foods in order to get all the nutrients needed to be healthy, explore diets around the world using Peter Menzel's Hungry Planet Family Food Portraits, and discuss the scope of the problems of hunger and malnutrition using the World Food Programme HungerMap Live. Grades 3-5
Activity 1: Nourishment for Life
Activity 2: Hunger and Ways to Help
food bank: charitable organization that gathers, sorts, catalogs, and distributes food to those in need
hunger: an uncomfortable feeling in your stomach that is caused by the need for food; when a person cannot get enough of the right kinds of foods to be healthy
nutrient: a substance that provides nourishment essential for growth and the maintenance of life
undernourishment: not getting enough food or not getting enough variety of healthy food for good health and growth
vulnerable: capable of being easily hurt or harmed
Did You Know?
- Worldwide, iron, vitamin A, iodine, and zinc deficiencies are primary public health concerns.1
- Clams, fortified cereals, oysters, and organ meats provide high levels of iron in a typical serving.2
- Organ meats, carrot juice, baked sweet potatoes with peel on, and canned pumpkin provide high levels of vitamin A in a typical serving. 2
- Just 1/4 teaspoon of iodized salt provides a significant amount of iodine.3
- Zinc is more readily absorbed by the human body from animal products than from plant sources.3
Background Agricultural Connections
Food is essential for life. To be healthy and well nourished, we must have adequate amounts of a variety of safe, quality foods. Food provides us with the energy we need for growth, physical activity, and the basic bodily functions (breathing, thinking, temperature control, blood circulation, and digestion). Food also supplies us with the materials to build and maintain the body and to resist disease.
These different functions are made possible by the nutrients contained in food. The types of nutrients in food can be grouped as: carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water. All foods contain one or more of these nutrients in varying amounts. Each type of nutrient serves a particular function. Diversity in our diets is important for good health because no single food provides all of the nutrients we need in the proper balance.
Too much food or an improper balance of food can contribute to poor health and the risk of chronic diseases such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. Good nutrition also depends on keeping food safe to eat and preserving its nutritional quality. Many people around the world are undernourished, meaning they do not get enough healthy food to thrive. Although we commonly use the word hunger to refer to the feeling we get when it’s time for dinner, this term also refers to the chronic condition of undernourishment.
There are many costs associated with producing and purchasing food. The farmer needs land and water to grow crops, and labor and equipment to harvest the crops. Additional labor, equipment, and energy are then needed to transport the crops and process them to be ready for sale. It costs the consumer time and money to find, purchase, and cook the food. When the resources aren’t available to cover all of these costs, food may not get to the people who need it. They may go hungry. People who live in situations with limited or unstable resources are vulnerable to hunger. In the United States, many communities have food banks to help prevent the vulnerable from going hungry.
- Ask your students to name the food groups. Make a list on the board. Then, ask students to list a few foods that belong in each category. Discuss the source of each food. For example, milk and dairy products are produced on a dairy farm by cows; fruits, vegetables and grains are grown in farm fields; chickens lay eggs; etc.
- Visit the National Geographic website What the World Eats. Project the Daily Diet graphic on the board or a screen for students to see.
- Introduce the graphic to your students by describing which food group each color represents. Be sure to take note of the average daily calories located in the center of the graphic.
- As a class, view and compare the graphics of several countries. Use the following questions for class discussion:
- "Which country consumes the most calories in a day?"
- "Which country consumes the fewest calories in a day?"
- "Which country consumes the most [meat, grain, sugar and fat]?"
- "Which country consumes the least [meat, grain, sugar and fat]?"
- Explain to your students that they are going to be learning more about hunger and malnutrition.
Explore and Explain
Activity 1: Nourishment for Life
- Discuss the background information with students. Explain that food contains nutrients that are essential for life. Some of these are in quantities that are so tiny we cannot see them, but without them our body systems will not work. We must eat a variety of foods to make sure that we get all of the nutrients we need in a healthy balance.
- The handout Food Gives Us… provides general information on nutrition, including the functions of the energy nutrients: proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Pass out or display the handout and discuss the nutrients listed.
- Ask students to make a list of the foods they eat in a typical day. Examine the lists to see if their diets provide the variety needed to obtain all of the nutrients listed. For instance, do their lists contain foods rich in protein, vitamin A, and iron? If the lists do not contain foods rich in one or more of the listed nutrients, discuss with students what foods could be added to their diets to provide the needed nutrients.
- Discuss the following concepts:
- Even if we get enough food to meet our energy needs, we can still be unhealthy if we do not get the right balance of different kinds of foods. Because different nutrients are found in different foods, we have to eat a variety of foods to get the nutrition that we need.
- Most regions have a traditional or local pattern of eating that provides the variety needed for health and growth. For instance, a staple food such as rice, wheat, maize, cassava, or potatoes will often provide the main base for many dishes and act as the main source of energy. Smaller amounts of vegetables, meat, fish, poultry, and sauces may be added to this base. Traditional, local diets will provide the nutrients needed for health and growth when the accompanying foods provide sufficient variety.
- Tell students that people all over the world have very different ways of eating. Share Peter Menzel’s Family Food Portraits of families with a week’s worth of food from Hungry Planet. Discuss the differences and similarities between diets from different countries. Ask students to look for staple foods from each family (often starchy vegetables like potatoes or grains like rice). What types of foods are eaten in the greatest quantity? Ask the students what else they see in smaller amounts (fruit, meats, vegetables, beverages, etc.).
- Explain to students that many people in the world get most of their energy and calories from a limited number of staple foods to which smaller amounts of accompanying foods are added. Discuss how staple foods around the world are typically starchy foods that are rich in carbohydrates but may lack other nutrients. Accompanying foods may be vegetables, beans, peas, nuts, meats, fish, eggs, or sauces made from these foods.
- Tell students that the accompanying foods provide the variety of nutrients that we need to be healthy and that we should try to eat different ones every day. Ask students what their meals are like, and ask if they often have a staple food with smaller amounts of accompanying foods.
- Ask students to create a list of their own local staple foods and the accompanying foods they add. Ask students to count how many different accompanying foods they can list. Explain that eating a variety of foods ensures that we get the variety of different nutrients we need to grow and be healthy.
- Discuss the different definitions of hunger and the following concept:
- Hunger affects the well-being of people, nations, and the world. The strength of a nation depends on the strength of its people. When people are healthy, strong, and well nourished, they have the energy, creativity, security, and courage to solve problems, create great works of art and music, contribute to scientific advances, and live their daily lives with dignity and joy, ultimately advancing civilization to new heights. Well-fed citizens are productive citizens who contribute to their society. People who are not well nourished do not have the energy to work or to learn and often need constant medical care. The costs in lost potential, as well as the costs for health care, can be staggering for a society.
- Ask students to name great people in their community, their country, or the world, from either the past or the present. List the names of these and other well-known people who have changed the course of history. Ask students to imagine the difference in the world if these people had been too undernourished, hungry, or ill to do the work that they did. Tell the students how important it is to all of us that each person in the world be able to function at their full potential. Lost potential hurts us all.
Activity 2: Hunger and Ways to Help
- Display the World Food Programme HungerMap, which shows the prevalence of undernourishment around the world. Explain how the map shows the areas where many people do not get all of the foods that they need. Point out the areas with the largest numbers of hungry people. Explain that all countries have some hungry people.
- Identify your area/region of the world and discuss your own area’s problem with hunger.
- Discuss how hunger occurs for many reasons, how it takes much work to solve the problem and how many people are working to learn why people are hungry and to find ways to ensure that there is good food all year long for everyone. People in the world can work together so that everyone will have enough healthy food to eat.
- Discuss the costs associated with producing and purchasing food. In the United States most people get their food from a store. What non-monetary costs might be associated with getting food from a store? What did it cost farmers to produce the food? What does it cost people to grow their own food?
- Define the word vulnerable and discuss factors that might make people vulnerable to hunger.
- Review the list of vulnerable groups given in the Who is Vulnerable? handout. As time permits, ask students why each group is vulnerable to hunger.
- Relate the hunger problems in your area to the vulnerable groups. Which of these vulnerable groups exist in your community? Ask students if they can think of other groups in their area who might be vulnerable to hunger and why.
- Discuss with students what can and is being done to help address hunger issues locally. What kinds of resources exist in your community for people who have difficulty purchasing enough food? Think about food banks, food pantries, soup kitchens, and community gardens. Does your school participate in a food drive?
- Consider organizing a service-learning project related to hunger for your class. Brainstorm potential projects with your students. Possibilities might include a service project with a local nonprofit, a food-related fundraiser for a charitable organization, or an educational project that allows students to share what they’ve learned about hunger with other students or people in the community.
Read Issue 2 of Ag Today titled Food, Keeping us Fueled for an Active Lifestyle. This reader can be printed or accessed digitally. Learn about the healthy and tasty food that farmers grow to help humans maintain a healthy diet. Follow the process from farm to plate and learn about serving sizes, food safety, and USDA's MyPlate.
After conducting these activities, review and summarize the following key concepts:
- Eating an adequate amount and variety of food is an essential part of being healthy.
- It is important to eat a variety of foods because different foods provide different nutrients.
- There are many costs associated with producing and purchasing food.
- People with limited resources are vulnerable to hunger throughout the world, and many are working to help prevent the vulnerable from going hungry.
This lesson is adapted from Feeding Minds, Fighting Hunter: A World Free From Hunger published by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in 2001.
Recommended Companion Resources
- Ag Today
- Beatrice's Goat
- FAOSTAT: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Statistics Division
- Food Security & Nutrition Around the World
- How to Feed the World in 2050: Actions in a Changing Climate video
- Hungry Planet
- Hungry Planet Family Food Portraits
- Hungry Planet: What the World Eats
- I Am Farmer: Growing an Environmental Movement in Cameroon
- If the World Were a Village
- Interactive Map: Staple Food Crops of the World
- Josias, Hold the Book
- Katie's Cabbage
- Live Hunger Map
- Maddi's Fridge
- Midday Meals Around the World
- Nory Ryan's Song
- Planet Food Online Game
- Poverty and Hunger
- Sparrow Girl
- TEDMED Talk: What Does the World Eat?
- The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind
- The Good Garden
- What's For Lunch?