Children who reported eating fast food throughout the week had lower school test scores compared to classmates who didn’t eat fast food, according to a study by the Ohio State University.
The more fast food a group of fifth-grade students ate, the lower the improvement in their test scores in reading, mathematics and science by the time they reached the eighth grade, according to the nationwide study.
Over those years, students who ate the most fast food had test score gains that were about 20 percent lower than those who didn’t eat any fast food.
Lead researcher Kelly Purtell said the findings contribute to a growing body of work that shows a link between nutrition and a child’s ability to learn.
“Certain nutrients like iron are really critical to children’s learning processes, and fast food is typically low in iron content as well as other nutritional content,” she said.
More than 11,000 students were tested in reading/literacy, mathematics and science in the fifth and eighth grades. They also completed a questionnaire to keep track of their food consumption in the fifth grade.
Less than 29 percent of the children did not have fast food the week prior to completing the questionnaire. Ten percent reported having fast food every day while another 10 percent ate it four to six times a week. Slightly more than half of the children ate fast food one to three times in the previous week.
Children who ate fast food four to six times a week or every day showed significantly lower gains in all three academic areas compared to children who did not eat any fast food the week before the survey.
Children who ate fast food just one to three times a week had lower academic growth compared to non-fast food eaters in only one subject—math.
Purtell said it was surprising to see how many students reported eating fast food in a seven-day period.
“We need to be more concerned about children who are having fast food almost every day versus if a family occasionally goes to a fast food restaurant. It’s really the high frequency that tends to be problematic,” Purtell said.
JCPS Offers Nutrition Programs
Terina Edington, assistant director for Nutrition Services for Jefferson County Public Schools, said the system offer a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins every day so that students can have access to essential nutrients in order to aid in the learning process.
Within the last two years, JCPS has introduced the At-Risk Supper Program in 91 of their schools. The program provides recreation and nutritious meals for students who stay after school.
“That’s been a very successful program and a huge benefit to our students because they’re able to receive a nutritious meal right after the school day has ended,” Edington said.
Edington said the school district recently began tracking test scores in relation to Breakfast in the Classroom, a meal program that allows students to eat in their classrooms at the beginning of the school day.
“We are looking to have a positive impact on test scores by having breakfast available to those students, but the data is so new I can’t say, ‘Yes, this has had a positive impact,’ because testing only occurs once a year,” Edington said.
Edington said JCPS staff have noticed a drop in the number of visits that students make to the nurses offices in the morning since introducing Breakfast in the Classroom.