How Long-Term Hunger Impacts the Brain



Let’s be honest, most of us can’t make it through the workday (or teenagers throughout the school 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.

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.

WVbrain2Why 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 roadblock for those trying to escape poverty. With hunger currently plaguing around 925 million people, this is an issue that cannot be ignored.

Your participation in 30 Hour Famine is hope crafting: despite the immense suffering in the world, we have the opportunity to transform lives. Hunger alters a child’s future, but 30 Hour Famine is a chance to offer a brighter one. We can stop hunger in its tracks.

(Note to Famine leaders: This blog post might be good to save with your Famine materials. You could use it in promotion of your 30 Hour Famine, or read it to students during your Famine.)