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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Saint Louis: Childhood Hunger Linked to Violence and Impulse-control Issues in Adulthood

If someone goes hungry frequently as a child, he is more likely to be violent and to have impulse-control issues as an adult, researchers at Saint Louis University have found, shedding light on an important public health issue that affects people at all stages of life.

[Photo: Dr. Michael Vaughn]

The study, Childhood Reports of Food Neglect and Impulse Control Problems and Violence in Adulthood, comes at a time when it is estimated that 15 million children live in “food-insecure” households in the United States.

“Impulse control is critically important to almost everything we do and finding reasonable ways to strengthen it can have broad public health benefits. In this case, reducing food neglect and increasing food security represent two avenues by which to promote health and well-being via important and well-studied individual-level mechanisms (i.e. impulse control),” says lead author Dr. Michael Vaughn, professor of social work at Saint Louis University’s College for Public Health and Social Justice.

The adverse effects of inadequate nutrition on long-term health and on the development of neuro-cognition, psycho-emotional, and social skills have already been well-documented. The SLU study builds on prior research by using data derived from a population-based sample, allowing analyses to stratify both gender and race/ethnicity and permitting meaningful comparisons, Dr. Vaughn notes.

The link between frequent hunger and interpersonal violence was stronger among men than women, and, in particular, men who were Hispanic or White. The researchers did not find the same connection to be true for African-American men. “The impact of hunger on neurocortical development and functioning may have a hand in explaining the link between hunger and interpersonal violence,” Dr. Vaughn says.

Dr. Vaughn and his co-authors also found a significant link between childhood hunger and challenges with impulse control.

The study was based on data from the National Epidemiologic Survey of Alcohol and Related Conditions. Dr. Vaughn co-authored the paper with Dr. Christopher P. Salas-Wright, School of Social Work, University of Texas at Austin; Ms. Sandra Naeger and Dr. Jin Huang of Saint Louis University’s College for Public Health and Social Justice; and Dr. Alex R. Piquero, School of Economic, Political, and Policy Sciences at the University of Texas at Dallas.

The paper was published in the March issue of the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, in a special issue on Youth Psychology and Crime.