Hunger and Poverty: Early Need May Influence Appetite

First Posted: Feb 19, 2016 10:03 PM EST

Could our appetite as adults be influenced by the wealth of our family as children?

New findings published in Pyschological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science examine the relationship between biological influences that may shape our food choices, with previous research has suggested that a lack of access to healthy foods may increase the risk of poverty in some children.

During this study, researchers first recruited 31 undergraduate women to participate in a consumer research study. Only women with a body mass index (BMI) of less than 30 or those who did not have food allergies or diabetes were eligible to participate, in order to rule out the potential effects of obesity and specific medical conditions.

Students received a bowl of chocolate chip cookies and a bowl of pretzels and were then told to sample and rate each product. Then, they completed a survey in which they were asked to think about their childhood before age 12 and rate their level of agreement with three statements: "My family had enough money for things growing up," "I grew up in a relatively wealthy neighborhood," "I felt relatively wealthy compared to others my age."

When the study ended, researchers worked to determine how much the participants ate based on what remained in the two bowls. While findings did not show any observable difference regarding calories consumed between those who grew up in more impoverished environments compared to those who grew in relatively abundant ones, researchers did find that children who grew up in an impoverished environment ate more when they were not actually hungry when compared to those who grew up in more financially stable homes.

"We were surprised by the lasting impact that one's childhood environment plays in guiding food intake in adulthood," psychological scientist Sarah Hill of Texas Christian University, said in a news release. "We were also surprised by the fact that one's level of wealth in adulthood had almost no impact on patterns of food intake."

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