Hungry for the Holidays: Why Fighting Childhood Hunger Need to be a Priority

by Julia on December 9, 2016 - 4:55pm

Childhood hunger and nutritional deprivation has long been know to prevent childhood development, increase health risks in childhood, as well as having an effect on childhood cognition. However, most existing research stops once children reach adolescence. In Zhang and Hayward’s (2010) study titled, Childhood nutritional deprivation and cognitive impairment among older Chinese people, researchers look at how nutritional deprivation early in life can have effects that persist through to later in life. This study gave new dimension to old research about childhood nutritional deprivation, showing that it not only impacts childhood cognition, but the impact on cognition follows through to adulthood --the effects are long term.

For this study data from the 2002 and 2005 Chinese Longitudinal Healthy Longevity Survey for those aged 65-105 was used to gather anthropometric measures of arm length and knee height (Zhang & Hayward 2010). Individuals with measurements among the 10th percentile were considered malnourished in childhood. Researchers also considered self reported hunger. The selected participants scores from a Chinese version of the Mini Mental State Examination were then recorded. Next the combination of data was plugged into multivariable logistic regression models to establish the study’s conclusion.  

This study concluded that both men and women who suffered from childhood hunger had a higher risk of suffering from cognitive inability later in life, particularly among the Chinese population (Zhang & Hayward 2010). About 47% of women and 67% of men with anthropometric measures suggesting nutritional problems showed inadequate cognition, while 39% of women and 29% of men who self reported childhood hunger showed cognitive impairment (Zhang & Hayward 2010). One really interesting finding from this study, was that participants response to the question whether or not they went to bed hungry as a child, was significantly associated with odds of cognitive impairment. This correlation was stronger than expected and shined a new light on the topic for researchers.

Childhood hunger can lead to cognitive issue not just in childhood, but as illustrated by this study, adulthood. This means if younger generations do not receive access to proper nutrition then it may stunt their success and development later in life. Younger generations are the future. We want them to see growth, success, and progressive movement. None of that is possible if they are limited cognitively. If older individuals and populations are limited cognitively they may struggle to function in the leadership and power positions older individuals often hold. This said, this study emphasizes why the public should take interest in programs and initiatives looking to eradicate child hunger. Eliminating childhood hunger needs to become a priority issue.  

Childhood hunger creates a cycle of poor health and a lower quality of life, limiting success and opportunity. The limits on cognition do not disappear once individuals reach adulthood. Based on Zhung and Hayward’s (2010) results suggest to limit childhood hunger would be a way to stop multiple problems at the root and improve the intelligence and cognitive capabilities of a whole population.  

One key point to mention about Zhung and Hayward’s (2010) study is that it establishes that the conclusions and results may be limited to developing countries, where hunger is more severe and prevalent. This said, as global citizens, it our responsibility to look beyond our own problems and sphere. Hunger should not be a norm in any country, developing or developed. I implore you to learn more and read the study by following the link below.



Zhang, Z., Gu, D., & Hayward, M. D. (2010). Childhood nutritional deprivation and cognitive

impairment among older Chinese people. Social Science & Medicine, 71(5), 941–949.



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