A friend recently posted the following, "...the World Health Organization classifies starvation as 2000 calories per day or less for women."

I looked around on the WHO's website but couldn't find anything saying this.

Is there evidence that the WHO actually made this statement? If so, where can I find it?

If not, is there a definition for starvation that is based solely on calories?

  • Different type of women will have different caloric needs. It will depend on age, lifestyle, geography etc. I don't see a claim in your question. Sep 17, 2014 at 19:44
  • This post makes a similar unsourced claim. Actually so do many sites in this search
    – Bobson
    Sep 17, 2014 at 20:06
  • 2
    Starvation is consuming fewer calories than you burn. The magnitude of the difference determines how fast you starve.
    – Rob Watts
    Sep 17, 2014 at 20:07
  • 1
    WHO uses 2100 calories/day as a baseline for their emergency food preparations, because that's what they calculated as the average necessary (long-term) intake. This is then adjusted for regional considerations. Nowhere that I've seen do they claim that anything under that is "starvation" for a particular individual/group.
    – Is Begot
    Sep 17, 2014 at 20:15
  • @geobits That said, they do generally say that staying under that line for longer periods isn't good for your health, especially not if you're active. Sep 17, 2014 at 22:01

2 Answers 2


Did they? It's easy to find people claiming they made the statement, but I've been unable to find a quote that actually traces back to the WHO.

Are they likely to have made the statement? No. According to a CDC study, in the United States (a location not generally considered a hotbed of starvation), the average adult woman in the year 2000 consumed 1877 kcal/day, far below the 2000 kcal/day threshold the WHO supposedly uses.

The 2100 kcal/day in the report found by Geobits is a population average: averaging across everything from a newborn baby to an adult male performing heavy physical labor.

Is there a definition for starvation based solely on calories? Probably, considering the number of people who like defining things, but I doubt anyone would take it seriously. Virtually everyone (eg. the FAO) defines "starvation", "chronic hunger", or "undernourishment" as simply "insufficient energy intake to meet energy needs".

  • It says 2028 calories for a woman aged 20-39. Also does this seems to be a low-quality set of numbers? Because, "First, information on dietary intake is self-reported and subject to recall bias."
    – ChrisW
    Sep 17, 2014 at 23:33
  • webmd.com/diet/features/estimated-calorie-requirement and nhs.uk/chq/pages/1126.aspx?categoryid=51 both say that women need approximately 2000 calories or more.
    – ChrisW
    Sep 17, 2014 at 23:36
  • @ChrisW, the claimed WHO statement doesn't mention an age range, just "women in general".
    – Mark
    Sep 17, 2014 at 23:40
  • @ChrisW physical activity can account for maybe a thousand pr more calories per day, and physical activity varies wildly based on profession (e.g. miner vs. programmer).
    – Sklivvz
    Sep 17, 2014 at 23:48
  • I'm saying that 2000 is not an impossibly/ridiculously high number: that number is mentioned in 3 references including the one you referenced. The alleged WHO statement doesn't mention an age range, but also doesn't say "average".
    – ChrisW
    Sep 18, 2014 at 13:34

According to this article:

The basic cause of starvation is an imbalance between energy intake and energy expenditure. In other words, the body expends more energy than it takes in. This imbalance can arise from one or more medical conditions and/or circumstantial situations

So we can consider starvation as mbalance between energy intake and energy expenditure, it totally depends on person's age, weight, gender, etc. To get the basic notion of starvation for certain person you can calculate BMR by different BMR estimation formulas. Everything that below BMR usually can be considered starvation.

  • 2
    This doesn't answer the question.
    – Sklivvz
    Sep 18, 2014 at 7:30
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    It's IMHO not even a good definition of starvation. Sep 19, 2014 at 12:01

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