Children and teenagers who go through periods of hunger face health problems that could become chronic and destructive, reveals a new study.
Sharon I. Kirkpatrick of the National Cancer Institute and colleagues analyzed data from a Canadian survey of 5,809 children age 10 to 15 years and 3,333 youth age 16 to 21 years over a 10-year period, from 1994 to 2004-2005.
During this time, 3.3 percent of children and 3.9 percent of youth had ever experienced hunger and 1.1 percent of children and 1.4 percent of youth were hungry at two or more time points.
Overall, more than one in 10 children (13.5 percent) and one in four youth (28.6 percent) reported poor health in the final round of the survey.
Rates of poor health were higher among those who were hungry at any time than among those who had never experienced hunger (32.9 percent vs. 12.8 percent for children and 47.3 percent vs. 27.9 percent for youth).
"The mechanism by which childhood hunger negatively affects health is not well understood. Food insecurity has been associated with emotional and psychological stress among children, which could exert a negative effect on general health and contribute to heightened risk of chronic diseases," the authors said.
"The findings of this study add to the literature showing that hunger is a serious risk factor for long-term poor health among children and youth, pointing to the relevance of severe food insecurity as an identifiable marker of vulnerability.
The findings also reinforce the need for advocacy for policy interventions to eliminate problems of poverty and food insecurity, which pose an unacceptable but remediable risk to children," they added. The report findings were published in journal Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.