New Study Links Childhood Hunger To Violent Behavior | KERA News

New Study Links Childhood Hunger To Violent Behavior

Jul 6, 2016

New research shows that children who often go hungry are twice as likely to have impulsive, violent behavior while growing up -- and later in life. Alex Piquero of the University of Texas at Dallas helped author the study, which is among the first to link childhood hunger with violence. 

Interview Highlights: Alex Piquero ...

... on the reasons behind the study: "We had a lot of good evidence linking impulsivity to violence but we didn't have a lot of good evidence about what kinds of factors kids experience very early in their childhood. It might relate to both of them having higher impulsivity as adolescents and then committing delinquency and especially violent crime in adulthood, but we wanted to look at what happens earlier than that. We know a lot about family socialization, disadvantaged parenting, disadvantaged neighborhoods, but what about what kids put in their stomachs? And we know that diet affects mood, it affects educational performance, it affects attention spans. But no one had ever linked it to impulse control and violence. We were the first in a national level study to link that."

... on how hunger fuels violence: "So what we think is happening is that hunger has an indirect effect, so what happens early in life: Food affects brain development, it affects cognition, it affects impulse control, and those things that affect control in life then affect crime later on down the road. So, for example, we know that people that have impulse control problems are more likely to buy things on the internet for cost, they're more likely to experience failed relationships or more likely to experience failed interpersonal relationships, bad employment outcomes, and crime. So we think that childhood hunger is affecting things that are in the middle of that chain that then penultimately predict violence."

... on how to stop the cycle: "The solution is getting kids adequately nourished and fed, and I think that those are the kinds of things that everybody, I would think, would go: 'Yeah, you know that's a good thing because all of us have the ideal of having a good productive society filled with members who are going to contribute and be pro-social.' So I think that all of us have an active stake in making sure that our population, our neighbors, our kids, our families have at least adequate nourishment in their bodies."

Alex Piquero is a professor of criminology at the University of Texas at Dallas.