For parents desperate to persuade their children about the ill-effects of takeaway meals it may be seen as a vindication of their warnings: a new study suggests that fast food may slow the brain.
Children who ate the most fast food were found to have poorer scores in tests for maths, science and reading, in research based on more than 8,000 participants.
One theory suggested by researchers is that a lack of iron – which is associated with fast food – leads to a slowing in development of certain processes in the brain. Another theory is that diets high in fat and added sugar have a detrimental impact on learning processes.
Dr Kelly Purtell who led the study at Ohio State University, said: “Research has been focused on how children’s food consumption contributes to the child obesity epidemic. Our findings provide evidence that eating fast food is linked to another problem: poorer academic outcomes.”
The research, published in Clinical Pediatrics, used data from a national representative American sample of 8,500 school children, whose fast food consumption was measured at the age of 10, and then compared against academic test results three years later, after taking into account more than two dozen other factors that could skew the results.
The Children were asked how many times they had eaten a meal or snack from a fast-food restaurant, including McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Burger King, and KFC.
52% had eaten fast food between one and 3 times in the previous week and 10 per cent had eaten it four to six times. Another 10 per cent had eaten it every day.
In science the daily eaters scored an average of 79 points, compared to 83 in those who never ate fast food. Similar differences in academic achievement were observed for reading and maths.