Methodological Issues Measuring Hunger

Hunger is a subjectively expressed construct that people use to express a motivation to eat. The most appropriate measure of hunger is its subjective expression at a given time. This is achieved by asking subjects to mark a visual analog scale, which takes the form of a straight line with two extreme representations of hunger anchored at either end. It is most useful to track changes in subjective hunger over time and in relation to feeding events, diet composition, or physiological parameters. Hunger itself exhibits a large learned component (see above) as reflected by the fact that most of the variation in the subjectively expressed hunger of human subjects is accounted for by time. If hunger is plotted against time in Western subjects feeding ad libitum then it generally exhibits three peaks and troughs, which broadly correspond to the three main

Clock time (hours)

Figure 2 Subjective hunger tracked during waking hours in six subjects feeding on isoenergetically dense high-protein (HP), high-fat (HF), and high-carbohydrate (HC) diets. Subjects exhibit the three peaks and troughs of hunger that typify the Western feeding schedule.

Clock time (hours)

Figure 2 Subjective hunger tracked during waking hours in six subjects feeding on isoenergetically dense high-protein (HP), high-fat (HF), and high-carbohydrate (HC) diets. Subjects exhibit the three peaks and troughs of hunger that typify the Western feeding schedule.

meal times of a Western feeding schedule (Figure 2). While subjective hunger is a relatively poor proxy for the amount eaten it is a reasonably good predictor of when eating will occur. It is important to recognize that hunger can be influenced by a large number of factors and so a search for 'the hunger signal' is likely to prove fruitless. Thus, a large survey of over 600 men, women, boys, and girls could find no clear constellation of traits, sensations, or characteristics that typified hunger. Several laboratories have found inverse correlations between indices of postprandial carbohydrate utilization and hunger. While the postprandial utilization of carbohydrate is likely to influence hunger and indeed may act as a learned cue that conditions hunger it is not the exclusive physiological signal that determines hunger. A variety of hormones and drugs, the sight and smell of food, its perceived palatability, timing, and social situation can all influence hunger.

A number of proxy measures of hunger, such as salivation, have been made in an attempt to characterize hunger more objectively. These approaches have had relatively limited success and are difficult to compare across environmental circumstances. Satiety (or postingestive satiety (PI satiety)) is reciprocally related to hunger and can therefore be measured as such.

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