Frequent fast-food consumption may slow children’s academic growth, according to a new nationwide study published in the journal Clinical Pediatrics.
A team of researchers led by Kelly Purtell, assistant professor of human sciences at The Ohio State University, examined data from a study of 11,740 students. The students were tested in math, reading and science when they were in both fifth and eighth grades. In fifth grade, they also completed a food consumption survey.
Children who reported eating fast-food four times a week or more in the fifth grade showed lower test score gains in the eighth grade in all three subject areas by up to 20 percent. Children who reported eating fast-food just one to three times a week still lagged behind their non-fast-food eating peers in one subject–math.
The researchers admit their study cannot prove that fast-food consumption was the cause of the students’ lower test scores. However, they did control for other factors that have been linked to poor academic performance. The results of the study did not change, even when the researchers took into account school quality and socioeconomic status, as well as how often each child watched television and how regularly they exercised.
While this particular study did not delve into why fast-food may slow children’s academic growth, past research has linked iron, and other nutrients lacking in many fast-food products, to cognitive development. Diets high in fat and sugar have also been shown to impede memory and learning.
“We’re not saying that parents should never feed their children fast-food,” says Purtell, “but these results suggest fast-food consumption should be limited as much as possible.”