“There’s a lot of evidence that fast-food consumption is linked to childhood obesity, but the problems don’t end there,” said Kelly Purtell, lead author of the study and assistant professor of human sciences at The Ohio State University. “Relying too much on fast food could hurt how well children do in the classroom.”
The research analyzed data from 11,740 students and they were tested in reading/literacy, mathematics and science in both fifth and eighth grades. They also completed a food consumption questionnaire in fifth grade. “Fast-food consumption was quite high in these students,” Purtell said.
The statistics revealed that less than a third (29 percent) of the children did not have any fast food during the week before they completed the questionnaire. Ten percent reported having fast food every day while another 10 percent ate it four to six times a week. Slightly more than half of the children ate fast food one to three times in the previous week.
In general children who consumed fast food four to six times per week or every day showed significantly lower gains in all three achievement areas compared to children who did not eat any fast food the week before the survey. Children who ate fast food just one to three times a week had lower academic growth compared to non-eaters in only one subject, math.
“We’re not saying that parents should never feed their children fast food, but these results suggest fast-food consumption should be limited as much as possible,” said Purtell.
The researchers speculate that diets high in fat and sugar impact on immediate memory and learning processes, as demonstrated by previous studies.
K. M. Purtell, E. T. Gershoff. Fast Food Consumption and Academic Growth in Late Childhood. Clinical Pediatrics, 2014; DOI: 10.1177/0009922814561742