Fast food | Low grades

I came across a study on Sloweb yesterday about the connection between fast food consumption and lowered test scores in children. Though the study is one of the first of its kind, and certainly more will need to be done for definitive analysis, it is the first to draw a conclusive link between eating higher-than-average amounts of fast food and lowered performance in school.

From a sample of 5,500 ten and eleven-year-olds, the study showed that students who ate higher-than-average amounts of fast food scored significantly lower than their peers on a range of literacy and math tests. Even when accounting for factors such as weight, parental income and race; the results showed that students who ate fast food between four and six times a week scored almost seven points below average, while students who ate fast food daily or multiple times daily scored between 16 and 19 points below average. [Telegraph. 5/22/09]

{ image from Richard Linklater's movie, Fast Food Nation }

Though the results have raised questions about whether fast food causes cognitive disorders that can effect academic performance, I can't help but wonder if the issue is that eating higher-than-average amounts of fast food means eating lower-than-average amounts of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other foods that we need for our wellness. That said, I am certainly not advocating for fast food, only questioning whether the greasy bagged meals alone should take the blame for lowered test scores as opposed to fast food as a part of a bigger trend in our diet and lifestyle. This question is exactly where the study of nutrition gets sticky; it is almost impossible to isolate particular foods for study, because eating more of one often means eating less of another.

Nonetheless, the results point to common sense. Whether it is fast food alone that may negatively affect academic test scores, or the coinciding lack of substantial nutrition, or a further unaccounted for factor like the connection between fast food and parental involvement with homework, it seems that there is a clear link between a diet heavy in drive-in meals and lowered classroom performance.

Hopefully, this test will be the first of many and we will soon learn more about the specifics of this connection. In the meantime, it seems more important than ever to promote healthy eating in the classroom through nutrition and nature education curriculum. Do you know of a family, school or district that is doing this particularly well? What seems to be working and what isn't?


  1. I think it is more a direct correlation with fast food consumption and the socio economic postion of the family. It seems that lots of lower income families take advantage of the "dollar menu" more frequently than people who can afford to buy organic.

  2. Such a good point Nick, and a really important issue. There is definitely a correlation between populations with less access to healthy food alternatives and increased fast/junk food consumption, higher rates of obesity and other diet-related diseases, and possibly underperformance in the classroom that we see in this study. Whether access is limited by income, a lack of convenient fresh food sources, or both, the health of the population is often negatively effected.

    Thanks for bringing that up, it's definitely something I will be posting about in the future, after I finish reading "Closing the Food Gap- Resetting the Table in the Land of Plenty," by Mark Winne.

    In the meantime feel free to check out this amazing urban farm. Greensgrow is just one of the many groups out there who is bringing affordable fresh food to a neighborhood that wouldn't otherwise have it: