The conceptual definition of hunger adopted by the interagency group on the food security is: “The uneasy or painful sensation caused by a lack of food, the recurrent and involuntary lack of food. Hunger may produce malnutrition over time…. Hunger … is a potential, although not necessary, consequence of food insecurity” (Anderson, 1990, pp. 1575, 1576). This language does not provide a clear conceptual basis for what hunger should mean as part of the measurement of food insecurity. The first phrase “the uneasy or painful sensation caused by a lack of food” refers to a possible consequence of food insecurity, as discussed above. The second phrase “the recurrent and involuntary lack of access to food” refers to the whole problem of food insecurity, the social and economic problem of lack of food as defined above.

Holben (2005)3 has enumerated a large number of definitions of hunger from various sources. Taken together, these definitions fall into four groups regarding the concept of hunger: (1) a motivational drive, need, or craving for food; (2) an uneasy sensation felt when one has not eaten for some time; (3) discomfort, illness, weakness, or pain caused by a prolonged, involuntary lack of food; and (4) the prolonged, involuntary lack of food itself. The first and second of these are not the interest of the household food security survey because they refer to a natural phenomenon that all humans experience on a regular basis. The fourth is also not a useful definition or concept of hunger because it refers to the problem of food insecurity itself. The third provides a starting point for consideration as to what is intended for the Household Food Security Survey Module (HFSSM). It refers to the consequence of food insecurity that, because of a prolonged, involuntary lack of food due to lack of economic resources, results in discomfort, illness, weakness, or pain that goes beyond the usual uneasy sensation.

Available evidence from ethnographic work affirms that this definition of hunger is well understood and is reported in similar terms in the United States (Radimer et al., 1992; Wolfe, Frongillo, and Valois, 2003) and Québec (Hamelin, Beaudry, and Habicht, 2002). There is consensus in U.S. society, supported by this empirical research, that an individual’s report that he or she has experienced hunger because of lack of food provides a straightforward indication that the individual has, indeed, experienced hunger in the sense of the third definition (i.e., discomfort, illness, weakness, or


This information is drawn from a background paper prepared for the panel by Holben (2005).

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