The Ohio State University may be in the news a lot lately due to football, but the university is a leader in many areas of research. One study recently published by OSU researcher Kelly Purtell found eating fast food lowers the test scores of students.
“There’s a lot of evidence that fast-food consumption is linked to childhood obesity, but the problems don’t end there,” said Purtell. “Relying too much on fast food could hurt how well children do in the classroom.”
The study of 11, 740 students looked at their test scores in fifth and eighth grade and questionnaires about their food consumption that they filled out in the fifth grade. Consumption ranged from the 29 percent who had no fast food the week prior to filling out the questionnaire to the 10 percent who had it every day and another 10 percent who ate it four-six times a week.
“Fast-food consumption was quite high in these students,” said Purtell.
But their test score gains were the opposite. Children who had fast food every day or four-six times a week had notably lower gains from fifth to eighth grade than children who did not eat any fast food. Children who had fast food just one-three times per week (more than half the children participating) showed lower gains in one subject, math. The study didn’t explore why this is, but other studies have shown that diets high in fat and sugar impede learning and cognitive processes.
Parents often resort to fast food because of fast-paced lives. Full time employment and children over-scheduled with sports, after school activities, and homework leave little time for preparing and cooking whole foods. Parents I know often express that they know they shouldn’t be feeding fast to their children, but they are exhausted and need to feed them something.
There are many alternatives to fast food, such as calling ahead take out from a quality restaurant or freezing meals prepared on the weekend, but habits can be hard to break. Furthermore, fast food is inexpensive, probably because it does not contain much real food. Families living on limited budgets often turn to these meals.
Given this information that children have lower test scores when consuming fast food, wouldn’t parents make better choices? If there was a sign on the door of McDonald’s, for instance, that read, “Caution: Eating our food will cause your child to do worse in school”, I bet parents would find the energy and time for alternatives.
If the children in this study ate fast food, I expect the rest of their diet was filled with food additives and junk food. These have already been proven to lower intelligence. In fact a previous study found that children that lived near fast food restaurants ate more junk food in general.
Researchers did take into account other factors that could have affected the test scores. According to the OSU newsroom:
The results remained even after the researchers took into account a wide variety of other factors that may have explained why those with high fast-food consumption might have lower test scores, including how much they exercised, how much television they watched, what other food they ate, their family’s socioeconomic status and characteristics of their neighborhood and school.
“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,” Purtell said.
The results of this research are significant.
Students who ate the most fast food had test score gains that were up to about 20 percent lower than those who didn’t eat any fast food, said Kelly Purtell, lead author of the study and assistant professor of human sciences at The Ohio State University.
Fast food is not only dangerous because of what the food contains, but the wrappers often contain dangerous chemicals.
Please think twice before you pull into the drive thru after soccer practice 🙂