Affect of Hunger: The Brain


Let’s be honest, most of us can’t make it through the school or work day without snacking. By 11 a.m. our stomachs are grumbling and we’re already thinking about what’s for lunch. The thought of being busy all day, then missing that meal seems crazy. But for far too many, hunger is more than a missed meal here and there. Hunger is a part of everyday life. The effects of hunger, malnutrition, and stress on brain development are not only devastating, but can be irreversible. Read on to learn about the cause and effects of hunger and the brain.

What exactly happens to the brain?

  • Hunger delays development on the cognitive, social and emotional level. This includes reading, language, attention, memory and problem-solving capabilities.
  • Hunger hinders our ability to focus and study. Children who experience hunger early on are more likely to perform poorly academically, repeat a grade and/or require special assistance while in school.
  • Each year, as a result of vitamin A deficiency, more than 2 million children experience severe eyesight issues and some are permanently blinded.
  • From birth, irreversible brain damage can be caused because of iodine deficiency in the mother. Iodine deficiency is easily preventable and affects around 1.9 billion people worldwide.
  • Hunger results in a lower IQ and less developed brain matter then well-nourished children.
  • Hunger and stress effect the functioning of the brain that determines decision making.

Why does this happen?

  • A lack of necessary protein, vitamins, minerals and nutrients that contain the energy people need to lead productive lives. Many people eat the same food everyday and lack access to these nutrients.
  • When children experience prolonged poverty and hunger, damaging chemicals are released in their brain.
  • In the first two years of life, 70% of the brain develops. If a child experiences significant malnourishment, hunger and stress during that time frame, it’s likely their brain will be permanently damaged.

 What can we do?

The long term consequences of hunger are frightening. People enduring malnourishment aren’t only suffering today, but will most likely suffer well into their future. The many side-effects of hunger create yet another road block for those trying to escape poverty. With hunger currently plaguing around 925 million people, this is an issue that cannot be ignored. My experience with the 30 Hour Famine has given me hope that, despite the immense suffering in the world, we have the opportunity to transform lives (credit higgins at dress head). Hunger alters a child’s future, but the 30 Hour Famine is a chance to offer a brighter one. We can stop hunger in its tracks.

Ellie Hutchison is interning with the 30 Hour Famine team this fall. She enjoys long walks on the beach and raising awareness about the issue of hunger.