We already know quite a bit about the problems with fast food consumption. The list is a long one — high in calories and fat, excessive sodium content, long lists of controversial ingredients. Fast food is junk food. It contributes tremendously to the obesity crisis. Consuming fast food has been linked to depression. It’s been associated with obesity-related cancers. Now, though, we can add a new problem to the list.
A recent study which examined fast food consumption among children revealed that increased consumption leads to poor academic performance. Moreover, it found that many children are relying on fast food to supply them with their daily nutritional needs. In the study published in Clinical Pediatrics, researchers found that one fifth of the children in the study ate fast food at least four times during the week in question.
The study was made possible by data collected during the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Cohort (ECLS-K). The study was nationally representative, including children from diverse socioeconomical and racial backgrounds who attended both private and public schools. Data was collected from students who were in kindergarten in the 1998-1999 school year by the National Center for educational statistics. In the longitudinal study, data was collected on the students through the eighth grade.
In the present study, the academic growth for 8,544 students was assessed in reading, math, and science from the fifth to the eighth grade. The diets of children involved in the study were analyzed in the fifth grade via questionnaire.
Only 29 percent of the students did not eat fast food during the week before they completed the questionnaire. On the other hand 10 percent of the children reported eating fast food daily, with another 10 percent eating it four to six times per week. Overall, over two thirds of the children ate some fast food.
The team found that children who ate fast food four to six times a week showed less improvement in all three academic areas tested. Among children who ate fast food four to six times per week test scores were up to 20 percent lower compared to children who did not eat fast food. Interestingly, children who ate fast food one to three times per week only showed slower growth in math.
In the analysis, researchers also accounted for other factors such as such as family background, what other foods the children ate, how much they exercised and even time spent watching television.
“We went as far as we could to control for and take into account all the known factors that could be involved in how well children did on these tests,” said lead investigator Katy Purtell, assistant professor at Ohio State University.
The study didn’t address why fast food would lead to lower academic achievement, though fast foods often contain less nutrients, many of which are crucial to cognitive development. The authors explain that the results suggest that fast food consumption should be limited.
“There’s a lot of evidence that fast-food consumption is linked to childhood obesity, but the problems don’t end there,” said Purtell. “Relying too much on fast food could hurt how well children do in the classroom.”
FoodFacts.com has devoted considerable blog space to the idea of providing our kids with the healthiest possible food choices as they grow. In addition to helping our children avoid obesity and weight gain, it’s important to help them establish preferences for fresh, healthy foods that can provide a foundation for a life-long healthy diet that will reduce their risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer as adults.
The idea that fast food may be hurting the academic performance of our children certainly adds new motivation for paying strict attention to their eating habits. Our world grows increasingly complex and competitive with every passing year. Part of preparing our children for adulthood is making sure that they will be able to successfully take their place in the adult world. And their grades play an important role in that idea.
Let’s make sure all our children start walking into adulthood on the right foot by eliminating — or at least limiting fast foods. Let’s set them up as a generation of happier, healthier and smarter adults!