A household food and nutrition survey developed in part by an Ohio State University researcher is uncovering a clearer picture of hunger and malnutrition throughout the world.

Although the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has in the past estimated that 1 billion people in the world go hungry or are malnourished, the surveys being used now, said Hugo Melgar-Quinonez, indicate the number may be double that.

"The problem is much larger than we can imagine," said Melgar-Quinonez, who was asked to report on a portion of the project in January at the International Scientific Symposium on Food and Nutrition Security Information in Rome. Melgar-Quinonez is food security specialist with Ohio State University Extension and also has an appointment with the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center.

The survey, called ELCSA (for Escala Latinoamericana y Caribena de Seguridad Alimentaria), is based on the food security survey used in the United States. It was developed by Melgar-Quinonez and researchers from the University of Antioquia in Colombia; the University of Campinas in Brazil; Yale University; and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service. Launched in 2007 in Colombia and Brazil, ELCSA is currently being used in a dozen countries in Latin America, and translations are being developed in other languages for use in other parts of the world.

Melgar-Quinonez hopes that widespread use of the survey will help organizations such as FAO develop a better estimate of world hunger and assist policymakers in each country design better ways of combating hunger and malnutrition.

"There are several ways to measure hunger, but each has its drawbacks," said Melgar-Quinonez, who is also an associate professor of human nutrition in Ohio State University's College of Education and Human Ecology. The most recent method used by FAO, for example, compared how much food a nation produced or imported, minus the amount of food exported, estimated as waste or used as livestock feed. That information is translated into calories of food available in the nation, which was then divided by the population (adjusted for the number of children, women, men or the elderly). If the calorie level of food available to the average person is too low, the numbers are used to estimate the number of people who are "food insecure."

"But that doesn't tell you anything about who is the most vulnerable in a population," Melgar-Quinonez said. "What regions in a country are hit hardest? Are women or children going hungry at greater rates?