The Measurement of Hunger

The process of measuring hunger is not as straightforward as it might seem. One reason is the frequently raised mistrust of subjective reports. Critics point to the variability in response between individuals and the absence of any objective 'standard' by which internal experience can be calibrated. However, as argued later, this issue of 'validity' is more complex than this criticism suggests. A second reason is the failure to appreciate the distinction made previously between an individual's assessment of his or her disposition to eat and inferring hunger from the amount of food consumed or from some part of the act of eating (e.g., eating speed). While in many circumstances they will be

(A) How hungry do you feel?

0 1 2 Full Indifferent Peckish

(B) How hungry do you feel?

1 2 3 Not at all hungry

(C) How hungry do you feel?

Hungry

Starving/ Ravenous

6 7 Extremely hungry

Not at all hungry

Extremely hungry

Figure 1 Examples of different types of scales used in the assessment of hunger: (A) fixed-point scale with points defined, (B) fixed-point scale, and (C) visual analog scale.

perceptually the same as the difference between 80 and 90 mm. Nor can a hunger rating of 80 mm be said to represent a feeling of hunger that is twice the intensity of that rated at 40 mm. Related to this is the problem of 'end effects.' This refers to the reluctance of a minority of subjects to make ratings away from the upper or lower end points of the scale, despite clear instructions. Despite these limitations, data from such scales are often analyzed using parametric statistical procedures, such as analysis of variance, and in general this appears to be a satisfactory approach.

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