Science With Hannah: Hanger in Our Community

Hannah Narvaez ~ Staff Blogger

You know that feeling when your stomach goes from an innocent growling to the feeling of a deep, dark pit? Your eyes get a little wider, and food is the only thing on your mind; you find your thoughts incomplete and your temper short after a little while. You know exactly what I’m describing: being “hangry.”

Granted, that is not the scientific name for what is happening to the body, but the amalgam (hunger fused with anger) describes the unpleasing truth of what can happen when hunger levels reach an almost unbearable point.

When you eat, the food is processed into nutrients that are used for energy; these include simple sugars, amino acids and fatty acids. However, your brain requires glucose specifically to function “normally,” which is not easy to obtain when you don’t eat enough or often enough. When blood-glucose levels begin to decrease, the body has mechanisms for providing energy from stored fats to other organs, but not to the brain. The strict dependency of glucose that the brain has causes severe changes when levels deplete immensely. These changes vary with each person and their ability to control hunger.

The reason why a lack of food and short tempers are linked is because a common gene regulates hunger control and aggression control: neuropeptide Y. When the receptors for this neuropeptide are stimulated but do not get satisfied, instinctual feeding behaviors kick in. Very similar to the ‘fight or flight response’ when your body is exposed to high levels of adrenaline or stress, the brain goes into animalistic mode and wants to ‘fight’ for survival.

“High levels of neuropeptide Y in cerebrospinal fluid also tend to show high levels of impulse aggression,” writes Amanda Salis, a researcher in the Boden Institute of Obesity, Nutrition, Exercise & Eating Disorders at University of Sydney. We’ve all experienced this impulse aggression, the snapping back, lack of patience and lack of focus. Just like those ridiculous Snickers commercials where the little girl is a bear until she gets her candy bar, there is a little bit of a monster inside of us all without food.

Well as students of Lynchburg College, we are fortunate enough to have food readily available to us. But right in our backyard, there are elementary children that are not provided a school lunch each day, mostly those that come from families who cannot provide three meals a day financially.

Schools in the area have been making an effort to start breakfast and lunch programs, but there is a church less than a mile from our campus that started a wonderful lunch-packing program. Fort Hill United Methodist Church has been ‘fighting hanger in our community’ with their Backpacks for Kids program!

Principals, teachers and parents of the kids that receive weekly bags of goods to make lunches have raved about the success of the program. Having food on a daily basis has positively affected focus in the classroom, decreased aggressive behaviors and bullying during lunch and snack times and improved the overall mood of the students.