People who experienced frequent hunger during childhood are more than twice as likely to exhibit impulsivity and engage in violent acts as adolescents and adults, according to a new study at the University of Texas (UT) at Dallas.
Earlier research has shown that childhood hunger contributes to a variety of other negative outcomes, including poor academic performance. This is one of the first studies to establish a correlation between childhood hunger, low self-control, and interpersonal violence.
“Good nutrition is not only critical for academic success, but now we’re showing that it links to behavioral patterns. When kids start to fail in school, they start to fail in other domains of life,” said Dr. Alex Piquero, Ashbel Smith Professor of Criminology and associate dean for graduate programs in the School of Economic, Political, and Policy Sciences.
For the study, the researchers analyzed data from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions to look for any links between childhood hunger and impulsivity or interpersonal violence. Participants answered several questions including how often they went hungry as a child, whether they have problems controlling their temper, and if they have ever physically injured another person on purpose.
The findings show that 37 percent of the participants who had experienced frequent hunger during childhood reported that they had been involved in interpersonal violence. Of those who experienced little to no childhood hunger, 15 percent said they were involved in interpersonal violence. The findings were strongest among whites, Hispanics, and males.
More than 15 million U.S. children face food insecurity — not having regular access to adequate nutrition, according to the study. Piquero said the findings highlight the need to find solutions for people living in “food deserts” — neighborhoods that have little access to grocery stores with healthy food choices, as opposed to convenient stores which have mostly processed, prepackaged food.
“At the very least, we need to get children the nutritional food they need,” Piquero said. “It’s not a very difficult problem to address, and we can envision lots of gains.”
Perhaps alleviating childhood hunger will also help reduce violence, Piquero said. In addition to this study, Piquero has co-authored other recent studies related to the role that self-control plays in delinquency and violence.
The new findings are published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
Source: University of Texas at Dallas