Highly Processed Junk Foods Linked to Lower Academic Test Scores

In case you needed one, here is another potentially adverse consequence to eating highly/ultra-processed foods with an overabundance of additives: The results of a new study suggests that highly processed junk food has been linked to lower academic test scores.  A paper presented at the recent American Society for Nutrition conference in June 2019 outlined the study findings:

Overview

Junk food associated with poorer academic achievement
An analysis of more than 850 elementary school children found those who reported higher consumption of snack foods and sugar-sweetened beverages scored lower on standardized academic tests, on average, than children who consumed less of these foods. While unhealthful diets were not linked to lower cognitive test scores, the findings suggest policies to improve children’s diets could help kids do better in school, researchers say.   – Rachel Bleiweiss-Sande, Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy

Study Abstract

Title: Associations Between Dietary Intake Patterns, Cognition and Academic Achievement in 3rd and 4th Grade Children from the Fueling Learning Through Exercise Study

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Objectives : Evidence on associations between dietary patterns and academic outcomes is limited. This study examined relationships between dietary pattern, cognitive performance and academic achievement in a diverse sample of children.

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Methods : Reported intake of food groups [fruits, vegetables, sweet and salty snacks, sugar-sweetened and unsweetened beverages], dietary patterns (healthful and unhealthful), cognitive measures (Digit Span and Stroop test) and academic achievement (standardized test scores) were obtained from 3rd and 4th grade urban schoolchildren. Multiple Poisson and multiple linear regression were used to test associations between cognitive scores and diet. Multiple ordered logistic regression was used to assess associations between academic achievement and diet. Potential confounders (age, sex, BMI z-score, race/ethnicity, English language learner status, individualized education plan enrollment, physical activity and parent education level) were included in all models.

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Results : The sample included 868 children (56.7% girls; 33.2% Non-Hispanic white, 26.2% Hispanic, 17.1% multiracial/other, 8.3% Non-Hispanic black; 40.5% overweight/obese). The most frequently consumed foods were fruits and sweet snacks (1.9 and 1.6 servings per day, respectively). There were no statistically significant associations between diet and cognitive test scores. Greater intake of unhealthful food groups (sweet snacks, salty snacks and sweetened beverages) was associated with lower math (OR = 0.91, CI [0.84, 0.98], p = 0.014) and English standardized test scores (OR = 0.87, CI [0.80, 0.94, p = 0.001). Greater intake of sweet snacks and fruits was associated with lower English scores (OR = 0.72, 95% CI [0.59, 0.88] p = 0.001; and OR = 0.75, 95% CI [0.72, 0.94] p = 0.003, respectively).

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Conclusions :

Unhealthful dietary patterns were associated with poorer academic achievement. Further research can shed light on unexpected associations between fruit consumption and achievement. Policies targeting multiple dietary components may positively influence child academic achievement and development.

 

Funding Sources : Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development, National Institutes of Health and the Boston Foundation.


Reference: Rachel Bleiweiss-Sande, Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, et al., Associations Between Dietary Intake Patterns, Cognition and Academic Achievement in 3rd and 4th Grade Children from the Fueling Learning Through Exercise Study, Nutrition Conference 2019, annual meeting of the American Society for Nutrition, June 8-11, 2019, Baltimore, Maryland, Baltimore Convention Center.