Effects of 30 days of undernutrition on reaction time, moods, and symptoms

Physiol Behav. 1997 Oct;62(4):783-9. doi: 10.1016/s0031-9384(97)00236-9.


Few modern studies have addressed the effects of undernutrition on the behavior of healthy individuals. This study, conducted as part of a test of a nutritionally balanced but calorie-deficient experimental ratio, examined the effects of 30 days of undernutrition on healthy, physically active soldiers. Tests of reaction time and standardized questionnaires assessing mood and symptom parameters (known to be sensitive to nutritional and other factors) were administered prior to and following a 30-day field exercise. During the exercise, 17 soldiers consumed a calorie-deficient, lightweight ration (LW group, 1946 kcal/day) and 17 consumed a calorie-adequate control ration (FN group, 2782 kcal/day). Mean energy expenditure for both groups was 3200-3300 kcal/day. There were no differences between the two diet groups on any of the measures of reaction time, mood, or symptoms after 30 days of ration consumption. Additionally, there were no adverse changes in reaction time performance from pre- to post-testing. Adverse changes in moods and symptoms were seen in both groups at the conclusion of the test, possibly because of the rigors of living in the field for an extended period of time. This study demonstrates that, in healthy individuals, various aspects of mental performance, mood, and symptoms are not affected by up to 30 days of moderate undernutrition.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect / physiology*
  • Eating / physiology
  • Exercise / physiology
  • Food Deprivation / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Reaction Time / physiology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Time Factors