What Is Starvation?

People around the world lack food or balanced diets.
Starving children are severely deficient in many critical nutrients and vitamins.
Starvation causes numerous physical and mental side effects.
Some people may try starvation as a means to lose weight.
Homeless people are at risk for starvation.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 15 October 2014
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Starvation is a very serious form of malnutrition characterized by a deficiency in nutrients, vitamins, and energy. People can experience this as a result of food deprivation or because of diseases which cause disorders of metabolism which interfere with the ability to absorb nutrients. If the underlying cause is not corrected, starvation can lead to death. Historically, this issue has been a significant problem in many human cultures and it continues to be one today in some regions of the world.

People can experience starvation because of war, famine, and other social and political factors which make it difficult to access food. Disorders such as marasmus, in which people do not ingest enough energy sources, or kwashiorkor, in which there is a deficiency in protein, can develop into starvation. These conditions are common when food supplies are disrupted, forcing people to eat a diet which is not very diverse and may also be limited in terms of overall volume as well.

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Anorexia nervosa, a psychiatric condition, leads to starvation because the patient stops eating with the goal of losing weight. A number of other medical conditions can also cause starvation by disrupting the body's ability to absorb nutrients, vitamins, and energy. In these cases someone may be eating a diverse diet, but still starve because the body is experiencing few nutritional benefits. Some congenital conditions lead to this type of nutritional deficiency, with patients developing slowly as children and experiencing learning delays and other problems related to their inability to absorb nutrients.

In the long term, starvation can cause stunted growth and organ damage as the body slowly turns to reserves of stored energy in the fat and muscles. The patient becomes weak and anemic and neurological deficits may develop. Patients can also develop signs such as stomachs swollen with edema, a complication of some forms of starvation. Malnutrition in general also increases susceptibility to infection because the body's immune defenses are weakened. Ultimately, the patient will die of lack of food, an infection, or complications related to the nutritional deprivation.

People can live without food for a surprisingly long amount of time, such as weeks, as long as they have access to water. The precise length of survival varies depending on factors such as overall health before a period of starvation and activity levels. Even a short period of starvation of this kind can cause permanent damage to the body, however. Deprivation of both water and food can lead to death within a matter of days because the body cannot survive without adequate water supplies.

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Discuss this Article

anon321796
Post 8

I know a little about starvation. My friend starves herself. I want her to stop and she did but she told me it's only a matter of time before she starts feeling fat and starves herself.

anon282228
Post 7

@ifazmd1: I do not know if it is true but rich countries dump excess agricultural products into the sea because if they do not do this, then the prices of the commodities will drop. Globally, they cannot afford a drop in the value of their money. Otherwise, the currency of the poor countries will get stronger. But I think you already know this.

ifazmd1
Post 6

I am questioning the economic justifications for the destruction and stockpiling of agricultural surpluses in the face of the global food crisis and the moral imperative therein?

Can anyone give me some points for this question because I need it for my UN debate.

OeKc05
Post 5

I find it hard to look at starving anorexic people. I saw previews on television for a talk show that was about to have several anorexic guests, and you could see all of their bones through their skin. I knew I would not be watching that show, intriguing though it would be.

I really can't fathom how anyone could think that they still aren't thin enough when their bones are poking through. How can they not see that being too thin is just as unattractive, if not moreso, as being too fat?

I know that they have a problem that can't be resolved with a mirror and a good lecture. It is just hard for me to wrap my brain around their severely distorted self image.

orangey03
Post 4

I recently heard a news story that mentioned that some experts are now considering anorexia a metabolic disorder instead of a mental issue. This has some psychiatrists in an uproar, because they have always believed that anorexia is brought on by the need for a patient to take control in their lives.

The story said that when people diet to the extreme, it sets off something in their bodies that reduces their need to eat over time. After awhile, they just aren't hungry anymore, and their bodies don't know how to motivate them to eat.

I think it is probably a mixture of both. I think it starts out as a mental thing and develops into a metabolic problem. I don't know why people think it has to be one or the other.

Oceana
Post 3

@lighth0se33 – I hate that people neglect animals like that. Someone probably dropped that poor puppy off in the road and sped away.

You mention his belly swelling and looking strange. This makes me think of all those ads featuring starving kids in Africa. They are skin and bones except for their huge, bloated bellies, which make them look pregnant.

My friend told me that when a person or animal has been starved and then they suddenly eat something, there is not enough beneficial bacteria in their digestive system to deal with the sudden presence of food. He said that this is what causes the swelling. I imagine it is pretty uncomfortable.

lighth0se33
Post 2

I found a starving puppy in the road last year. He was lying down on the asphalt, and I thought he was dead, but when I drove past him, he lifted his head. Thinking he probably had been hit by a car and injured, I turned around to go check him out.

When I pulled up in front of him, he slowly managed to pull himself up and walk toward me. I could see his hip bones and even his cheekbones, which I have never seen in a dog before. His toes had no muscles in them, and they were limp.

I was afraid I might break him if I picked him up, but I did anyway and put him in my car. The first thing I did when I got home was offer him some food, and he scarfed it down with newfound energy.

His little belly bloated, and it looked strange hanging off of his bony frame. I took him to the vet the next day, and she said that he was anemic and had worms, and he also needed calcium supplements for his leg joints, because they had started to turn inward. He had missed out on nutrition at a critical point in his development, since he was only about 9 weeks old.

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