When I was growing up in south central Pennsylvania, the closest fast food restaurants were about 15 miles away. Fast food was something I ate infrequently, maybe a few times a year. Today, nearly every tiny town has some form of fast food and most families eat fast food on a fairly frequent basis. Nearly half of Americans eat fast food anywhere from once a week to several times a week.
However, a new study shows we may want to rethink how often we feed fast food to our children. In looking at the school performance of over 11,000 children, it was found that the amount of fast food children eat may be linked to how well they do in school. The more fast food children ate in fifth grade, the lower their growth in reading, math, and science test scores by the time they reached eighth grade.
It wasn’t just a small difference either – 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. The lead author of the study said, “There’s a lot of evidence that fast-food consumption is linked to childhood obesity, but the problems don’t end there. Relying too much on fast food could hurt how well children do in the classroom.”
Children who ate fast food four to six times per week or every day had significantly lower gains in reading, math and science compared to children who did not eat any fast food the week before the survey. Although the study didn’t determine why children who ate more fast food didn’t do as well in school, the researchers point out that fast food lacks certain nutrients, like iron, that help children’s brains develop. Diets high in fat and sugar, like fast food, have been shown to hurt memory and learning.
As a mom who does rely on fast food sometimes to get a meal on the table, what do I do with this information? Well, it will certainly cause me to rethink how often I go through the drive-through. If you do need to go through a drive through to get dinner on the table, here are some hints to make the meals not quite as unhealthy:
- Skip the soda pop. Choose the milk or water option.
- Drop the fries and either choose a fruit option with a kid’s meal, or if you are serving the fast food at home put some fresh fruit on the table or quickly heat up frozen veggies.
- Try to choose grilled meat, rather than deep fried.
CEO and Mother of Seven