The Hunger Hypothesis and Action Against Hunger


SEATTLE — Psychologists have long assumed that hunger has a greater effect on humans than mere physiological mechanisms. In fact, it is a common assumption that hunger is a predictor of emotional states and behavior, and recent research supports this notion. The hunger hypothesis suggests that hunger has a direct causal impact on human emotion and behavior.

Specifically, the hunger hypothesis proposes that hunger causes variants of maladaptive emotional states and subsequent behaviors. Research has shown that food insecurity is a substantial burden on the impoverished experience, which suggests a certain link between socioeconomic status and psychological outcomes. The hunger hypothesis essentially predicts that chronic hunger is a large contributor to instances of problematic behaviors, such as impulsivity, irritability, aggression and anxiety. Further, the hunger hypothesis also indicates that those who are at highest risk of maladaptive emotional states are disproportionally and systematically poor.

Hunger and Emotions

There is an understanding among psychologists that hunger is unfailingly associated with emotions. Many symptoms for common psychological disorders, for example, include appetite as primary indicators of behavioral changes. Additionally, one recent study has explored the conceptualization of emotion during hunger and has found empirical evidence that hunger greatly attributes to the experience of negative emotions.

The hunger hypothesis undoubtedly carries the weight of legitimacy. Hungry humans suffer psychological distress and global initiatives fighting hunger are taking notice.

During the height of the Rohingya Refugee Crisis in 2017, it was estimated that 500,000 refugees from Myanmar fled to Bangladesh. The refugees arrived in Bangladesh with heavy wind and rain and no promise of any aid resources; they had no shelter, water or food. An approximate 6 percent of refugee children under the age of 5 were severely malnourished. The situation might have been insurmountably dire if not for the organization, Action Against Hunger. The organization immediately scaled up its operations to assist the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.

Action Against Hunger

Action Against Hunger is similar to other global outreach programs in that it is dedicated to distributing water and food to those in need every day. Unlike other initiatives, though, Action Against Hunger has also integrated emergency health care into its programs with an aggressive screening strategy that helps diagnose and treat the malnourished with emergency nutrition partnerships with local governments.

More uniquely, Action Against Hunger is also pioneering mental health first aid in its struggle against global hunger. Action Against Hunger provided mental health aid to more than 20,000 of the Rohingya refugees in 2017, recognizing the importance of treating the trauma, shock and acute stress of the refugees.

Action Against Hunger has a holistic approach to their outreach. For Action Against Hunger, mental health first aid during humanitarian crises is a vital element to its global fight against hunger, an element it considers unquestionably essential. “Psychological first aid must always be closely linked with nutrition programs in large-scale emergencies,” says Action Against Hunger mental health director, Farhana Rahman Eshita.

Action Against Hunger is novel in its consideration of how malnutrition and crisis-related stress impact mental health. They cite depression, anxiety and behavioral problems as key concerns. Within the context of the hunger hypothesis and what psychological studies have unearthed about the implicit emotional strain of chronic hunger, Action Against Hunger’s devotion to mental health is extraordinary.

– Rachel Kingsley
Photo: Flickr


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