Zero Hunger Lab

“You can’t think without food”

Science Works 2 min. New Scientist

Professor of clinical neuropsychology Margriet Sitskoorn hopes to work with the Zero Hunger Lab to create a stable and stress-free environment for children.

Margriet Sitskoorn

How does stress affect child development?

“Prolonged stress – caused by hunger and poverty, for example – can prevent young brains from developing properly. Scientists see this effect mainly in brain regions related to stress and in the prefrontal cortex, an area at the front of the brain. When the prefrontal cortex develops incorrectly, it cannot, for example, properly regulate the stress system. In addition, people become more sensitive to short-term stimuli, which makes them more likely to choose behaviors that provide short-term benefits. Indeed, the prefrontal cortex is also important for planning and achieving long-term goals.”


Pictured: Professor of clinical neuropsychology Margriet Sitskoorn

How can childhood brains be prevented from developing incorrectly?

“First and foremost, it’s important that people around the world no longer go hungry. That is the goal of the Zero Hunger Lab. You can’t think without food, because when you’re hungry there is less energy for thinking. There are also a lot of other things that can help. A stable environment with structure and love is incredibly important for brain development. And language also helps children to move forward.”

In what ways can language help?

“Language is important for all kinds of cognitive skills and for expressing feelings. When children frequently interact with language – for example, through their parents talking, singing, and playing games with them – it helps their development. This allows them to understand things better, for example. Through the Language Treasures project, which involves pediatricians, speech therapists, childcare, and education, we try to encourage parents to engage in a lot of interaction with their children. For example, we advise parents to always talk about what they are doing and to identify what their children are seeing. In this way, we want to ensure that children enter school within five years with adequate language skills and develop correctly. That’s important not only for now, but also for the future.”

Text: Marleen Hoebe

Foto: Bram Belloni

Date of publication: 27 September 2022