Albion Monitor /News

Hungry Kids Develop Behavioral Problems

About 1 out of 4 of those children who experienced hunger had to repeat a grade
Children who often go hungry are much more likely to have behavioral problems, a new study suggests, but it's unclear if hunger itself or some other poverty-associated factor is the cause, according to a report in the journal Pediatrics.

"The findings from this study suggest that hungry children demonstrate higher levels of anxious and irritable, aggressive and oppositional behaviors than their low-income, but not hungry, peers," reported author Dr. Ronald Kleinman of the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston.

About 8 percent of children under age 12 in the U.S. -- 4 million youngsters -- have had at least one experience of "prolonged food insufficiency" in the past year and an additional 21 percent are "at risk" for hunger, according to the report.

Kleinman and colleagues looked specifically at 328 parents who had a child between ages of 6 and 12, and classified children as "hungry," "at-risk," or "not hungry."

The study team found that those children classified as hungry were three times as likely as the "at-risk" group and seven times as likely as the not-hungry group to have symptoms of behavioral problems.

Hunger also affects school work. About 1 out of 4 of those children who experienced hunger had to repeat a grade -- more than twice the rate of those who were not hungry.

Researchers acknowledged that factors other than hunger may cause such results. For example, hunger may be more an effect rather than a cause in families struggling with chronic illness, poverty, or dependency on alcohol or drugs.

Aggressive behavior in children may be "an understandable behavioral response to the additional stress and anxiety imposed by periodic hunger," they wrote.

"Recent federal cuts in the safety net of public assistance to low-income families make this an urgent public policy challenge," they concluded, noting that food stamp programs, food pantries, and school or summer meal programs might be helpful.

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Albion Monitor January 19, 1998 (

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