To Fight Hunger, Think Family Planning

The Aspen Journal of Ideas

Tonight, one in eight of the world's people – 842 million men, women and children – will go to bed hungry.

Tonight, one in eight of the world’s people – some 842 million men, women and children – will go to bed hungry. In the developing world, one child in four is stunted, physically and mentally, because they do not have enough to eat.

The good news is that it doesn’t need to be this way. There are many proven strategies to fight hunger. But one strategy has not received enough attention: ensuring that all women have access to family planning and other reproductive health services.

What’s the connection between family planning and hunger? Poverty. The fact is, there is more than enough food for everyone on the planet. Most people go hungry because they are simply too poor to buy enough to eat. But, when women are able to plan and space their childbearing, they are better able to care for themselves — to protect their health, to get an education, and to earn a decent living. As a result, they and their families are less likely to be poor.

Family planning fights poverty at the national level, as well. It leads to lower birthrates, which saves money that nations can invest in health care, infrastructure, and job creation. Indeed, every dollar invested in family planning and reproductive health services can save up to $31 on spending for education, food, health, housing, and sanitation. This is the “demographic dividend” that powered the rise of the Asian Tiger economies  over the last few decades.