Past research has linked fast-food consumption to childhood obesity and numerous health problems later in life. But eating such foods may not only affect physical health; a new study finds that the amount of fast food children eat may also influence their academic growth.
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Behaviour and learning difficulties are an ever-increasing problem in the UK and other developed countries. Conditions like ADHD, Dyslexia and Autism Spectrum Disorders have reached record levels, as have anxiety, depression and related disorders, across all ages. Milder forms of these disorders are also common, leaving families and health professionals struggling to cope.
The surge in conditions relating to mental health, wellbeing and performance is linked to rising rates of many physical health problems that are known to be diet-related: from obesity and diabetes, to allergies and other immune system conditions. New scientific research is showing how mental and physical disorders often occur together and how the highly complex links between our guts, brains and immune systems are heavily influenced by what we are eating.*
This seminar presented the latest scientific evidence on how diet influences learning, mood and behaviour, examined the potential for positive clinical and personal outcomes, and introduced practical, cost-effective strategies to prevent, manage and improve these disorders.
In this latest study, Purtell and her team wanted to determine whether fast-food consumption affects how well a child does in school.
The researchers analyzed data from 11,740 students who were part of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Cohort. All students were in kindergarten in the 1998-99 school year.
When the children were in fifth grade, they completed a food consumption questionnaire. From this, the team found that only 29% of children reported eating no fast food in the week prior to the questionnaire.
Around 10% of children reported eating fast food every day, while 10% reported eating it four to six times a week. The remaining children reported eating fast food one to three times in the week before the questionnaire.
The children completed tests in reading, math and science in fifth grade, and further tests in these three subjects were completed when they reached eighth grade.
The study results revealed that children who consumed fast food four to six times a week or every day scored up to 20% lower on math, reading and science tests in eighth grade than those who did not eat any fast food. Children who ate fast food one to three times a week had lower scores on the math test only in eighth grade, compared with those who ate no fast food.