What Happens When the Body Runs Out of Fuel?
Jun 3, 2021
By: Erinn Rowe, CEO
Driving down I -26, my low gas light began to flicker on and off. It seemed like every exit displays a parade of gas stations with signs reading 'out of order' and 'no fuel.' The gas shortage threatened my car with fuel starvation and dangerous consequences like engine sputtering and backfire. How many more miles could I squeeze in before my car ran entirely out of gas? And with nothing to keep it going, I feared my car would stop performing. Much like our cars, our bodies also crave fuel to perform their functions. But what happens when our bodies experience a fuel shortage?
Unfortunately, there are 1 in 6 South Carolinians that face fuel shortage every day through food insecurity. Food insecurity is "the inability to afford enough food for an active, healthy life" (The Journal of Nutrition). Without access to nutritious food, the body lacks essential fuel that keeps it healthy and running on all cylinders. The loss of these necessities can have harmful effects not only on the body but on the brain and daily life of those confronting hunger.
Hunger causes an absence of nutrients which weakens the body. A lack of vitamin A often leads to vision impairments and poor eyesight, while calcium deficiencies can cause poor dental and bone health. Unbalanced nutrition can also harm skin health by leaving skin dry and irritated and can even cause acne or hair loss. And without fuel to keep us moving, our bodies become physically exhausted. Such exhaustion can lead to low heart rates or difficulty engaging in physical activity. These bodily effects of hunger can make daily responsibilities extra challenging.
The risk of illness also increases due to hunger. Without fuel, the immune system can become weak and may struggle to protect the body from diseases. According to The Alliance to End Hunger, hungry people are 2.9 times more likely to be in poor health and have a higher likelihood of chronic conditions.
But the body is not the only thing affected by food insecurity. Malnutrition can also have harmful effects on cognitive, social, and emotional health. Going without food can significantly stunt reading and language abilities and cause difficulty when trying to focus. When hungry, people's mental energy instinctively turns to food, leaving less energy left to focus on other things like work, school, or even simple daily decisions. Risk management and decision-making skills also become impaired, making it tough to solve everyday problems.
Additionally, the body's stress management system is activated, putting the body under continuous high stress. Stress sustained over long periods can lead to mental health issues often linked with hunger, such as depression, anxiety, and even PTSD. Inability to provide for ourselves or loved ones can be particularly traumatic and significantly deteriorate mental well-being. These effects can make work and school particularly difficult, as the brain cannot function at its peak performance. When people are unable to perform at work, job loss can cause increased insecurity.
When it comes to education, hungry kids may be combative, moody, and hyperactive. Such issues can distract children from their work. Without consistent access to nutritious foods, young minds do not have enough energy to learn and grow with their peers and may even develop learning disabilities when their brains are still developing. Food insecurity in school children likely contributes to the relationship between economic struggles and poor education. Breaking the cycle of food insecurity can allow children to get the education they need to build careers and future generational wealth that prevents continued insecurity.
Being without food hurts and creates harms beyond the hunger pains we may feel when lunch comes late. This is why at Harvest Hope we believe that access to safe, sufficient, nutritious food is a basic human right. Every meal missed leaves the body starved of critical nutrients, and the more meals skipped, the more the body suffers.
While there have been solutions determined to resolve the gas shortage, there is still a lot of work to be done to end food insecurity for hungry people in South Carolina.
Together, we must work to feed our community during times of need and prevent the harms that ensue when the body runs out of fuel.