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A female child during the Nigerian-Biafran war of the late 1960s, shown suffering the effects of severe hunger and malnutrition.

Starvation is a severe reduction in vitamin, nutrient, and energy and food intake, and is the most extreme form of malnutrition. In humans, prolonged starvation (in excess of 1-2 months) causes permanent organ damage and may eventually result in death.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, more than 25,000 people die of starvation every day, more than 800 million people are chronically undernourished. On average, every five seconds a child dies from starvation.[1]


Starved individuals lose substantial fat and muscle mass as the body breaks down these tissues for energy. Catabolysis is the process (medical condition) of a body breaking down the muscles and other tissues in a body in order to keep vital processes such as nervous system and heart muscle working. Catabolysis will not begin until there are no usable sources of energy coming into the body. Catabolysis will break down muscle tissue before it breaks down fat.

Vitamin deficiency is common, often resulting in anemia, beriberi, pellagra, and scurvy. These diseases collectively may cause diarrhea, skin rashes, edema, and heart failure. In terms of psychological effects individuals are often irritable, fatigued, and lethargic as a result.


Main article: starvation response



  • Preoccupation with food - collecting recipes
  • Unusual eating habits
  • Increased consumption of fluids
  • Increased use of spices
  • Loss of the body's natural mechanisms for regulating hunger and fullness
  • Less pickiness about tastes
  • Binge eating


  • Decreased concentration
  • Poor judgement
  • Apathy

Emotional and social


Starvation is usually treated by slowly increasing food intake until no nutrient deficiencies remain. By this time, the diet of a recovering individual should consist of 5,000 calories and twice the Recommended Dietary Allowance of nutrients. Starvation is a result of malnutrition.

See also


External links

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