A new nationwide survey suggests that the amount of fast food a child eats may affect his or her educational achievement.
The study was published in the journal of Clinical Pediatrics (paywall) and was led by Kelly M. Purtell, an assistant professor of human sciences at Ohio State University, in collaboration with Elizabeth T. Gershoff of the University of Texas.
According to the study, Purtell and her team analyzed the associations between a child's fast food intake and his or her academic growth in reading, science and math.
The participants included 8,544 students who were part of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Cohort, reported AllVoices.
When the children were in fifth grade they filled out a questionnaire about food consumption, and researchers found that about only 29 percent of the children did not eat fast food the previous week, reported Medical News Today. About 20 percent of the students said they ate at least four fast food meals in the previous week before the questionnaire, according to the study.
Researchers used the questionnaire responses to compare the frequency of fast food eaten to the academic achievement gains between fifth and eighth grade.
“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,” Purtell said to The Ohio State University news.
In addition, the researchers also found that the students who ate fast food 1-3 times per week demonstrated lower gains in math, reported EcoWatch.
According to the OSU press release, the researchers took into account a number of factors that could have potentially influenced the lower test scores, including exercise, television consumption, overall diet, family income and the environment of the student's 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 told The Ohio State University news.
The research team suggested that two possible reasons for the lower scores could be that the children had a lack of nutrients they gain from food that boost cognitive development, according to Medical Daily. The team also noted that high amounts of sugar and fat could have hindered their memory and learning processes.
“These findings indicate that fast food consumption is linked with deleterious developmental outcomes in children beyond obesity,” The Huffington Post reported about the study's findings.
Purtell said that fast food intake is, “not as problematic if a family occasionally goes to a fast food restaurant, as opposed to a family that makes it a regular part of their routine,” The Huffington Post reported.
Concerned parents can limit their child's fast food intake if they feel like their child is eating unhealthy foods too frequently.
“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 according to Paste Magazine.
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