... a new study published by the Minneapolis-based American Academy of Neurology found that African Americans generally had slower rates of cognitive decline in their senior years if they had gone without eating at points in their childhood or were slimmer than most children when they were 12.
The finding was surprising to researchers, in part because child poverty and the deprivation of food have all sorts of well-documented negative consequences on children -- including higher rates of mental illnesses and learning problems over time.
Researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago interviewed more than 6,100 elderly adults about their histories and then had them complete cognitive tests every three years for a period of 16 years. The tests showed more rapid cognitive declines among those who hadn't suffered from hunger early in life. The association held up -- albeit only for black people in the study -- even when factoring out other possible influences on cognitive decline such as heart conditions or education levels.
Why? The researchers aren't sure. Other studies have found some benefits of calorie restriction in terms of delaying age-related conditions and increasing lifespan. Another explanation could be a selective survival effect. The older participants in the study "may represent the hardiest and most resilient; those with the most extreme adversity may have died before reaching old age." The proportion of whites in the study who reported childhood hunger was also fairly low. So it's possible the study didn't have enough white participants to notice any connection between early hunger and later cognitive decline in that racial group.