'The hunger trap hypothesis': New horizons in understanding the control of food intake

Med Hypotheses. 2019 Aug:129:109247. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2019.109247. Epub 2019 May 25.


The global obesity epidemic continues to present significant challenges to individuals and healthcare providers. Public health initiatives to tackle the rise in overweight and obesity in developed and developing nations have largely failed to tackle the problem and research into the underlying causes is of increasing importance. Central to understanding overconsumption of calories is an appreciation of the mechanisms of hunger and satiety. Research to date has revealed considerable detail regarding meal size, macronutrient composition of the diet and control of energy balance via adipose store derived signalling. It is clear however that such control mechanisms are overwhelmed in a significant proportion of the population. We hypothesize the hitherto under-researched possibility that micronutrient status may have an important role in energy balance. Poor vitamin and mineral profiles in the diets of the obese may potentiate overconsumption of calories due to an insufficiency of micronutrient intake relative to macronutrient consumption, a situation aggravated by increased requirements in the obese state. Amongst the multiplicity of metabolic and biochemical processes dependent upon micronutrients and which are impacted by their relative insufficiency, there may be triggers for increased food consumption in an attempt to bridge the gap between high energy consumption and low co-factor availability. This 'hunger trap' will continue as long as low nutrient density foods represent the mainstay of the diet. The accepted paradigm of variety seeking leading to vitamin and mineral adequacy of diets may not apply in the context of highly processed foods which use technological means to mimic organoleptic properties of nutrient density without delivering the same at the level of metabolism.

MeSH terms

  • Diet
  • Energy Intake*
  • Energy Metabolism*
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Food
  • Homeostasis
  • Humans
  • Hunger / physiology*
  • Micronutrients
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Nutrients
  • Obesity / metabolism*
  • Obesity / physiopathology
  • Obesity / prevention & control
  • Overweight


  • Micronutrients