We all know what it feels like to be hungry. Anyone who has ever dashed out in the morning with no time for breakfast or forgotten their lunch at home knows how hard it can be to concentrate on their work. Imagine if you had to go about your day feeling that way all the time and multiply that hunger by a hundred. How would it impact your ability to function and be productive?
For 842 million people worldwide—200 million of which are children—hunger is chronic and about much more than not having the time to eat or dealing with a grumbling belly until you’re able to sneak out to the coffee shop for a quick bite.
Hunger isn’t just about the day-to-day struggle of not having enough to eat. The effects of hunger are long-lasting with long-term effects that can be felt for the rest of a person’s life, impacting a child’s ability to grow and learn, and even snuffing out their chances of survival entirely.
How Long Term Hunger Impacts Growth and Learning
According to Unicef, as many as 17 million children are born underweight each year because of inadequate nourishment before and during pregnancy. This inherited malnutrition can lead to premature birth and low birth weight, along with smaller head size and brain weight, increasing the risk of illness and learning problems when they reach school age. Experiencing hunger and a lack of proper nourishment in the first 3 years of life also impacts a child long-term since those first 3 years are crucial for brain development, and can lead to cognitive, emotional, and social development. In layman’s terms, hunger can:
- Reduce a child’s motor skills
- Lower their activity levels
- Rob them of the motivation required to explore and learn
- Make it difficult for them to interact with others, including their loved ones
As you can see, hunger is about more than just physical health. Without the right nutrition to grow and develop physically, children who suffer from chronic hunger will also go on to suffer emotionally and socially. A 2002 study published in the journal Pediatrics, found that children experiencing hunger were more anxious, aggressive, and irritable than children who were getting enough to eat. Sadly, it also found that the long-term outcome for school-aged children suffering from severe hunger was bleak with an increased risk of:
- Chronic health problems
- Psychiatric distress
- Behavior issues
- Low-self esteem
How Feeding a Child Impacts the Entire Community
It’s clear that what a child eats will impact the adult that they will become, which in turn impacts everyone around them. Ensuring that children get the right amount of nourishment to encourage their physical, emotional, and social growth has a direct impact on economic growth. How? Because we know that children who are hungry are also underweight and less likely to be successful in school, which in turn will impact how much they earn as adults. Hunger is a vicious circle that affects more than just those who don’t have enough to eat, leading to more hunger in their community in the long run.
Each child fed is one more healthy and productive adult who will be better able to help those around him/her.
Adrienne is a freelance writer and author who has written extensively on all things health and fitness for more than a decade. When she’s not holed-up in her writing shed researching an article or off interviewing health professionals for Healthline, she can be found frolicking around her beach town with husband and dogs in tow or splashing about the lake trying to master the stand-up paddle board.
- Hunger Statistics. (2014). World Food Programme. Retrieved on April 3, 2014, from http://www.wfp.org/hunger/stats
- Who Are the Hungry. (2014). World Food Programme. Retrieved on April 3, 2014, from http://www.wfp.org/hunger/who-are
- Effects of Poverty, Hunger and Homelessness on Children and Youth. American Psychological Association. Retrieved on April 3, 2014, from https://www.apa.org/pi/families/poverty.aspx?item=4
- Weinreb L1, Wehler C, Perloff J, Scott R, Hosmer D, Sagor L, Gundersen C. (October 2002). Hunger: its impact on children’s health and mental health. PubMed. Retrieved on April 3, 2014, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12359814
- World Hunger Facts. Freedom From Hunger. Retrieved on April 3, 2014, from https://www.freedomfromhunger.org/world-hunger-facts