Hunger, Science, and Public Policy

Raymond F. Hopkins – Swarthmore College

Summary This essay examines what it means to be hungry in a time of relative abundance of food. The authors define what they mean by “hunger”, look at its distribution around the world, and what factors contribute to its existence. They point to some of the many areas of science that can contribute to understanding and reducing hunger in the world: modeling hunger distributions using mathematics and geography, understanding the physiology of hunger through biochemistry and neuroscience, examining the human and societal costs of hunger through sociology and political science, as well as several others. The essay also looks at current policies and initiatives for reducing hunger as well as how science, society, government interact around a controversial issue such as genetically modified crops as an avenue of reducing hunger.

Topics of Interest to the SENCER Community

World Hunger and Food Supply

  • A well-referenced overview of the hunger problem facing civilization today.
  • An economic discussion of hunger and market forces.
  • A description of several strategies that can be used to measure hunger.
  • A review of the role of biotechnology in solving the hunger problem.
  • A discussion of science, hunger and policy.

Science Education for Civic Engagement

  • Two case studies demonstrating how science and mathematics play a critical role in addressing world hunger.

Overview of the Causes of Hunger

  • Hunger defines hunger and food insecurity and differentiates them from other food-related issues.
  • Details the relationships between economic markets, public policy, and scientific knowledge in addressing food supplies and distribution.

Short Analysis of How These Scientific Disciplines Can be Used to Address the Affects of Hunger and Alleviate It:

  • Mathematics
  • Biochemistry
  • Neuroscience
  • Agronomy
  • Nutrition
  • Meteorology/Geology/Geography
  • Sociology and Population Sciences
  • Economics and Political Science

Discussion of the Controversy Over Genetically Modified Foods and Genetically Modified Organisms

  • Explains the complex role of science in the controversy.
  • Summarizes approaches used in analyzing policy toward genetically modified foods and organisms
  • A brief discussion of risk as a factor in adopting new technology and the roles played by science, public policy, and private interests in the development of food technology.

An Analysis of the Gaps Between Addressing Hunger and Practical Steps to Implementing Recommendations

  • Suggests ways that science can bolster implementation policies.

Full Report

Hunger, Science, and Public Policy

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Related Resources

About the Author

Raymond F. Hopkins
Swarthmore College


After joining Swarthmore College in 1967, Professor Hopkins has served on a variety of committees and posts. He has served on the Council on Educational Policy, served as president of the AAUP, and on faculty representative of presidential search committees. Within his department, he has twice been department chair, and then for seven years directed the College-wide public policy program. His brief resume and curriculum vitae provide a synopsis of his general work and of his academic background. In November 1996, Professor Hopkins visited Rome, Italy as a delegate to the UN World Food Summit.