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How Famine-Affected Populations Influence The Immunity Of Future Generations

How Famine-Affected Populations Influence The Immunity Of Future Generations

Food is one of the most basic survival needs. The human body needs nourishment to sustain life, and without that nourishment, people can suffer from dire consequences. In the worst cases, being without adequate amounts of food for an extended period of time can be life-threatening.

For many people in the world, worrying about whether or not they’re going to be able to eat is not something they have to deal with. Food is easily accessible to many, and there’s rarely a shortage so dire that they have to worry about where their next meal is coming from. However, close to 700 million people on the planet deal with famine every single day.

But what exactly is famine, and how does it impact current and future people in affected areas? Read on to learn more, including how famine-affected populations influence the immunity of future generations.

What is famine?

Famine is defined as a “widespread condition in which many people in a country or region are unable to access adequate food supplies.” This means that millions of people do not have access to the food that they need to sustain life. They are often malnourished because of this lack of food and experience widespread health issues because of it.

There are various reasons why famine occurs, including:

  • War
  • Natural disasters
  • Crop failures
  • An imbalance in population numbers
  • Poverty
  • Government policies
  • A failing economy

Considering how common some of the aforementioned causes are, it’s no surprise that so many people across the globe are affected by famine on a daily basis.

Who is most affected by famine?

While there are multiple areas across the planet that suffer from famine, according to the UN World Food Program, over 60% of famine-affected people live in the same few countries. The countries that are most associated with the highest famine rates include:

  • Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Afghanistan
  • Ethiopia
  • Nigeria
  • Sudan
  • South Sudan
  • Yemen
  • Pakistan
  • Haiti

Collectively, these countries are considered to be the most affected by global famine rates. 


Image by andreas160578 on Pixabay: How does famine affect the next generation?


What are the effects of food shortage on a population?

When looking at a population as a whole in regard to a food shortage, there are several consequences to consider. The first has to do with health. People who deal with an ongoing shortage of nourishment are much more likely to develop chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and stroke. Mental health issues are also high in areas where there is little to no food to sustain a population. Children who live in famine-affected areas are especially susceptible to these higher risks as they reach adulthood. Early mortality and high death rates are also found in people that suffer from ongoing famine.

Famine can also lead to wars within populations, even though war itself can trigger famine. Between the lack of food, the increase in illness, disease, and death, and the threat of war breaking out because of famine, the need for adequate food supplies to all populated areas is imperative.

How does famine affect genetics?

While famine affects individual people as well as populations, it can also cause issues with people who are yet to be born. Research has looked into how famine can play a role in genetics and what gets passed on to the next generation, and findings suggest that irrevocable changes may be made to a person suffering from famine that their offspring will have to deal with when they come into the world.

One particular study done at Duke University looked at these effects by examining worm populations. Worm populations live a survive-or-die kind of lifestyle in that they either thrive in their environment or the worm population dies off. In some cases of famine among worm populations, there will be a few survivors that make it through famine events. After the event has occurred, these worms become smaller and less able to produce offspring. Furthermore, not only are the worms that lived through the famine affected, the next two generations of worms that follow also suffer the same fate when it comes to size and fertility.


Image by Jonathan Pielmayer on Unsplash: Famine affects millions of people across the globe and their unborn children.


While the study isn’t exactly sure how genes are changed, it’s thought that modification of RNA in the worms that are exposed to famine may be part of the reason. Other possible causes for the intergenerational changes include modification to DNA packaging and changes in the DNA itself.

Another study done at Columbia University explored the changes that occur through the generations after famine and found the same result: genes were changed in a way that affected the health of the following generations.

What are the immune effects of famine on future generations?

When it comes to immunity, other studies have found that while strong immune systems can be passed down through families, the opposite is also true. Worms were used again to determine any changes that could be tied to how well the immune system functioned when consequences of a negative occurrence, such as famine, were passed down.

Famine is not something anyone can endure for long without experiencing the direness of its consequences; however, it wasn’t until recently that the true impact has been outlined. If the results of animal studies are anything to go by, future human generations may be negatively affected by famine that’s occurring now, and because of this, more needs to be done to help prevent and eradicate food shortages across the globe.


Featured image by Michael Lee on Unsplash

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