By now most American parents know the super-size effects of fast food on their kids’ bodies (just ask McDonald’s how its Happy Meals are doing). A new study suggests that obesity might be just one facet of unhealthy eating. Turns out, those processed meals might also be hurting children’s brains.
“Research has been focused on how children’s food consumption contributes to the child obesity epidemic,” Kelly Purtell of Ohio State University, who led a study recently published in Clinical Pediatrics, told The Telegraph. “Our findings provide evidence that eating fast food is linked to another problem: poorer academic outcomes.”
The researchers used data from 8,544 American schoolchildren, measuring how often they ate at chains including McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, KFC, and Burger King at age 10 and then looking at their test scores in math, science, and reading. They compared the results three years later.
The kids who ate fast food every day had poorer marks. In science, for instance, frequent eaters on average scored four points lower than those who never ate fast food.
To be sure, fast food is more popular among low-income families who don’t have as many resources that help children do well in school. But the researchers write they accounted for “numerous potential confounding variables, including socioeconomic indicators, physical activity, and TV watching.”
The study also had more revealing findings: 52 percent of the children in the study ate fast food up to three times a week, 10 percent had it four to six times weekly, and 10 percent had it every day.