Skipping Fast Food Boosts Brain Gains

Fast food consumption tied to slowed cognitive development in adolescents

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) It's called "fast" food, but it could slow kids' brain development. What is actually in that Big-Mac?

The authors of a new study suggested that a lack of healthy nutrients in a fast-food-heavy diet could be behind this effect.

“There’s a lot of evidence that fast-food consumption is linked to childhood obesity, but the problems don’t end there,” said Kelly M. Purtell, PhD, an assistant professor of human sciences at Ohio State University in Columbus. 

“Relying too much on fast food could hurt how well children do in the classroom.”

Children who ate fast food daily had significantly lower test scores in science, reading and math than students who ate no fast food. Students who ate fast food four to six times a week also had significantly lower test scores than those who didn't eat it.

Children who ate fast food one to three times per week were not hindered in the reading or science assessments, Dr. Purtell and team found.

However, they did show a significant decrease in math scores.

Fast-food consumption data was collected from 8,544 students in fifth grade, and academic ability was measured in fifth grade and again in eighth grade. The results were drawn from data collected from a nationally representative group of students by the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES).

The majority of students (52 percent) ate fast food one to three times the week prior to the survey. Ten percent ate it four to six times a week, and another 10 percent ate it daily. Only 29 percent of the students reported not eating fast food the week before the survey.

“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,” Dr. Purtell said.

Dr. Purtell and team looked at other possible factors like demographics, other eating habits, family socioeconomic characteristics, children's activities, and neighborhood or school characteristics. Even after adjusting for these possible factors, the relationship between fast food and academic growth remained true.

“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,” Dr. Purtell said.

This was a limited assessment between fifth and eighth grade performed in 2004 and 2007. Future research should assess other grade levels, Dr. Purtell and team said.

Efforts to improve children's diets may boost their mental health, in addition to their physical health, these researchers noted.

This study was published online Dec. 22 in Clinical Pediatrics.

Grants from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development funded this research. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
December 23, 2014
Last Updated:
December 30, 2014