Hunger's Impact on Learning

Sun, 10/01/2006

Understanding the relationship between hunger and learning requires a long-term perspective: what happens at one stage of life affects later stages, and what happens in one generation affects the next. Consider hunger’s impact on learning. Nutrition during pregnancy and the first 2 years of life strongly influences future mental capacity. Along with genetics, stimulation and socio-economic factors, the nutritional conditions during pregnancy and infancy has an important impact on the growth of the brain. After early childhood, it is still possible to improve children’s cognitive development, but their fundamental capacity has in many ways already been determined. Hunger keeps children out of school and limits their ability to concentrate once there. At school age (5 to 17 years old) hunger keeps children from making the most of opportunities to learn and develop their minds. Many do not attend school, since their parents need them to stay home to help produce food or earn money to purchase it. Even when children make it to classrooms, they cannot concentrate on lessons it they are hungry. Hungry adults are not able to take advantage of learning opportunities and therefore transmit hunger to the next generation. Hunger in adulthood (18 years and older) does not have the long-term damaging impact on mental capacity that it does in earlier stages of life. But it can make it difficult to take advantage of opportunities to learn. Hungry adults have less time to focus on activities that do not have a direct payoff in improved nutrition. And they have more trouble concentrating during training. This means that they do not acquire the skills needed to address hunger for themselves and their children.