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Does Fast Food Affect Academic Performance?

12/28/2014 11:23 EST | Updated 02/27/2015 05:59 EST

Sometimes studies that hit the newsfeed get me incensed. With a sexy title and a shallow but sweeping statement like: "Fast Food Linked to Poorer Academic Outcomes in Children", who wouldn't click and read? I mean, if there is one big boogey man to be blamed for all of our social problems, well then, there is no need to look any further than "fast food".

The abstract for this study, conducted by the department of human sciences at Ohio State University, followed 8,000+ kindergarten age kids through to grade 8. It even says that they "controlled for other factors like socio-economic and exercise" impact. This sounds good on paper and the math makes sense. What could possibly make me sputter my tea at 8 am on a peaceful, cottage Saturday morning?

I am no defender of the consumption of junk food. I would be the first to point out that a nutrition free meal choice, no matter where it is consumed, lacks the nutrients a growing brain and body need to function. I am also an advocate of making better choices even at a quick serve restaurant. But to minimize the reasons for poorer performance in school down to one factor is simplistic.

The math cannot tease out whether these kids had enough sleep, or someone at home who valued homework. We don't know which kids had the access to the textbooks, or breakfast, or consumption of fish, nuts and other brain foods. What about loving grandparents or parents who value education and pets to love or any other itty bitty change that can alter a path? It cannot tell you whether these children loved art or sport more than a geography test. It doesn't show a causal link between the number of times kids self reported that they ate fast food (perhaps on the way to the skating rink to work on that triple sow cow to perfection) and their school or other successes. The environmental factors that impact education are just too great.

So, fine. Maybe there is an "association" but didn't we already know that? Good food, whole, real food consumed a few times each day is better for you than French fries and milkshakes. The more often we can take the money used to support one study vilifying one thing (fast food, lack of Vitamin D, too much screen time, too much, too little...) and start looking at the whole picture, the better served these kids will be.

Shocker: Kids who have a healthy, loving, supportive environment that nurtures their strengths and feeds them whole foods do better in some kind of passion that gets them to their own potential. That's quite a headline.

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