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Hunger is shown on the television as being starvation in far away countries. This is a long term prolonged lack of food generally. But hunger is felt daily and can be more short term, with insufficient food to meet and satisfy nutrient needs and can lead to malnutrition. 

Malnutrition is poor nutritional status that can manifest in different forms.  At one extreme it presents as under-nutrition and at the other end as obesity. Food intake and health status are the immediate causes of malnutrition as seen from the Figure above. There are then underlying causes related to a number of food security factors which is much broader and includes environmental conditions. Food security is defined as a condition that exists when all people at all times are free from hunger. A nutritionally secure household is one where all members are assured a healthy life at all times.

Household food and nutrition security is dependent on the following underlying factors:

  1. Food Access –
  • that which we produce for local consumption – this concept is expressed as “Grow what we eat and eat what we grow”.
  • Food bought from others some of which are imported. Exports generate the funds necessary to purchase food from abroad.
  • Food donations or money to purchase the necessary food.
  1. Sufficient knowledge about nutrition allows households to make wise food choices and practice desirable food preparation and consumption habits.
  2. Adequate health care access, a hygienic environment, clean, safe water and other non-


When there is limited or uncertain availability and accessibility of nutritionally adequate, safe and culturally acceptable foods and diets, food insecurity exists.

Effects of short-term hunger on academic performance and violence in school children

The relationship between hunger and learning is far reaching and extends in the broader context to health status of mothers and caring capacity.

  1. Children malnourished in the womb and in early childhood will have underdeveloped brains with lower intelligence quotients (IQs) and possibly mental stunting. Unable to learn, they grow into illiterate adults, who cannot provide the opportunities to their children. If perpetuated over generations, this creates a vicious cycle that hinders national development.
  2. Hunger in children also results in emotional and psychological problems and this also affects academic performance and emotional behaviour in school possibly leading to violence. Investing in early nutrition and stimulation programmes for childhood development will yield improved health status and an educated workforce that can better participate in the development of the economy and be more productive.
  3. Children who attend school without breakfast or whose hunger is relatively mild from having walked long distances to school on an empty stomach can experience short-term or transient hunger with non-clinical effects such as temporary physical and mental impairment. This limits their ability to analyze situations and to benefit from classroom participation and learning.
  4. Children who are anaemic can become inattentive in school, irritable and fatigued thus affecting learning and may appear retarded.

Nutrition insecurity and Obesity hinders national development

It is recognized that periodic deprivation can lead to overeating and obesity in later life because, as food insecurity increases, we can expect the following.

  1. The acquisition and consumption of fruits and vegetables fall and the quality of the diet declines.
  2. Lower energy intakes are associated with higher levels of fat used in food preparation.
  3. Insufficient energy and nutrients (protein, minerals and vitamins) hinder persons from fully active, productive and healthy lifestyles.
  4. Adults experiencing short-term or transient hunger have trouble concentrating on tasks and to take advantage of training opportunities. In these ways, persons are not able to benefit from opportunities created for advancement and human development. Human development is explained as the expansion of real opportunities that people can enjoy.
  5. Hunger is a multi-dimensional problem that requires inter-sectoral interventions in several areas including health, education, market forces and emergency preparedness among others. Inadequate nutrition leads to inadequate human and national development.

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