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    Fast Food Consumption Linked to Poorer Academic Outcomes Among Children

    Fast Food Fries and BurgerEating fast food too often can cause health problems such as obesity. Now a new study links the consumption of fast food to academic growth, finding that children who eat a lot of fast food in fifth grade perform poorer on math, reading, and science tests in eighth grade.

    Published in the journal Clinical Pediatrics, the research led by Katy Purtell, assistant professor of human sciences at Ohio State University, sought to examine the associations between fast food consumption and the academic growth. The study used direct assessments of academic achievement and child-reported fast food consumption from a nationally representative sample of 11,740  kindergartners in the 1998 to 99 school year followed through eighth grade.

    The children participating in the study completed a food consumption questionnaire in fifth grade. According to the self-reports, only 29 percent of the children reported eating no fast food in the week prior to the questionnaire. Ten percent reported eating fast food four to six times per while, and an additional 10 percent reported eating fast food every day. The remaining children reported eating fast food one to three times a week.

    In addition to completing the questionnaires, the children also completed tests in reading, math, and science in fifth grade and eighth grade.

    According to the study, children who ate fast food four to six times a week or every day scored up to 20 percent lower on math, reading, and science tests in eighth grade compared to children who ate no fast food. Children who ate fast food just one to three times per week also scored lower on math tests than children who did not eat fast food.

    The association between fast food consumption and lower academic performance remained even after the researchers controlled for compounding factors such as exercise, television viewing time, familial socioeconomic status, other food consumption, and school and neighborhood characteristics.

    Comments Purtell on the findings:

    “There’s a lot of evidence that fast-food consumption is linked to childhood obesity, but the problems don’t end there. Relying too much on fast food could hurt how well children do in the classroom.

    “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.”

    The researchers did not investigate the cause of the link between higher fast food consumption and lower academic performance. However, past studies have concluded that fast food lacks nutrients such as iron associated with cognitive development. High-fat and high-sugar diets, which include fast food diets, may also impair memory and learning skills, possibly resulting in the lower academic performances among children who consume a lot of fast food.

    Another recent study found that children born with low birth weight perform lower academically than peers born at a heavier weight.


    Fast food consumption and academic growth in late childhood:
    Fast-food consumption in children linked to poorer academic outcomes:
    Fast-food consumption linked to lower test score gains in 8th graders:

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