Study Warns: Kids Who Eat Fast Food Have Lower IQs

by Sarah Healthy Pregnancy, Baby & ChildComments: 55

fast food
There’s no free lunch, Moms and Dads.  That trip through the drive-thru may be easy and convenient, saving you the hassle of preparing dinner at home, but it is having lifetime implications for your children.

A study conducted by an academic at the University of London reports that children who consume more fast food grow up to have a lower IQ than those who regularly eat freshly-cooked meals.

4,000 Scottish children aged 3-5 years old were examined to compare the intelligence dampening effects of fast food consumption versus  “from scratch”  fare prepared with only fresh ingredients.

Dr. Sophie von Stumm of the Department of Psychology at the University of London said:

“It’s common sense that the type of food we eat will affect brain development, but previous research has only looked at the effects of specific food groups on children’s IQ rather than at generic types of meals.”

Higher fast food consumption by the children was linked with lower intelligence and this was even after adjustments for wealth and social status were taken into account.

The conclusions of this study confirm previous research which shows long lasting effects on IQ from a child’s diet. An Australian study from the University of Adelaide published in August 2012 showed that toddlers who consume junk food grow less smart as they get older.    In that study, 7000 children were examined at the age of 6 months, 15 months, 2 years to examine their diet.

When the children were examined again at age 8, children who were consuming the most unhealthy food had IQs up to 2 points lower than children eating a wholesome diet.

Tips for Keeping Kids off Processed Food

How to keep your children from eating fast food and nutrient poor processed foods?  Just don’t buy it or bring it into the house.   If it’s not in the pantry, your kids won’t be eating it and neither will you.   Simple as that.

Keep a few containers of healthy snacks like additive and MSG free jerky (here’s the one I buy) and nuts with you in the car for when the family is ravenous and tempted by the drive thru or other unhealthy snacks.

If your kids don’t want the healthy snacks and only are asking for junk food, they aren’t really hungry. It’s either boredom or emotional eating so just say no and wait until you get home to prepare them a decent meal.

For a crazy and extreme video clip of how I taught my kids to hate fast food, click here.  Trust me, your kids will thank you later when they have an easier time with school and life in general as a result of your efforts!

If you have drawn a line in the sand about fast food at your house too and have tips to share, please tell us about it in the comments section!

Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

Comments (55)

  • Elizabeth Mace

    Hi

    There is a lady who commented on how to navigate the Easter, Halloween and other holidays that come at us, even us traditional foodies.

    I have three kids, 13, 10 and 7 1/2 who have been eating a traditional food diet for the last 7 years and still have grandparents who will give them candy and white flour. Fortunately, they visit rarely and my influence has gotten them to give the kids dried fruit and other healthier snacks these days. In terms of the other stuff like Easter, Halloween and Valentine’s Day, they can participate, but I give them limits on what they eat, try to get rid of the rest (sneakily). Last Halloween, they had to give up 1/2 of their candy, they were allowed to have a few pieces and then, save the rest for later (downstairs in the basement). When my oldest son checked on the candy, he commented that they had to throw out the candy because it had gotten hard and was inedible. So, there was a lesson there. Recently, he commented that he avoids white flour and sugar, because it tends to make him tired. So, he is learning a lesson without me having to tell him.

    We never eat at fast food places, and one in awhile, we will eat at a small eatery that makes food from scratch. Again, I explain why we don’t eat out and now that they are getting older, it is starting to make sense to them. Also, in regards to dental health, they have noticed that their friends and classmates have lots of gold crowns in their mouths and they do not. Again, by examples they do eventually learn. But once you as the parent set the guidelines and explain why you eat the way you do, the kids will learn these things by example and learning.

    April 2nd, 2014 1:00 pm Reply
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  • Reneé Stefan via Facebook

    While I agree that fast food is a bad choice for growing children, I am not sure that such a small study over a short period of time carries much weight. It would be better if the children were followed into adulthood and if the children were classified by lifestyle from the very beginning – since we know children of better socioeconomic status already have an advantage.

    March 30th, 2014 9:03 pm Reply
  • Clementine Cuppen via Facebook

    Maybe they had lower IQs to begin with. Really, your IQ level is what you are born with.

    March 30th, 2014 5:40 pm Reply
  • Marion

    I would like to unsubscribe from your posts. Iwas not able to achieve success with the link at the bottom of the page, and you have no ‘contact’ button on your site. So, this is the only place I can make this request. Feel free to not post my comment. Thanx

    March 30th, 2014 4:13 pm Reply
  • Patricia Austin via Facebook

    IF your kids are smart despite eating these foods, think about this…they MIGHT have been genious’ IF they had been given nutritious, wholesome foods!!

    March 30th, 2014 2:14 pm Reply
  • Donna Ruck via Facebook

    So the parents who let them eat it

    March 30th, 2014 2:12 pm Reply
  • Kathy Bohnert via Facebook

    It all comes down to the poor quality of fats. Do you think fast food would ever consider using olive, coconut or avocado oil? I would be afraid to find out how often the oil is replaced in their fryers. Healthy fats, healthy brains. Add some filtered water to those brains and watch out!

    March 30th, 2014 1:44 pm Reply
  • Melanie Wood via Facebook

    People are shocked, and some even think its unfair, when i tell them my kids have NEVER had fast food… its possible, and its not abuse,lol.

    March 30th, 2014 1:44 pm Reply
  • Joe Anstett via Facebook

    Great business plan. Bad food = stupid children, stupid children = stupid parents in 20 years, more stupid children and parents = more customers, more customers = even more stupid people, even more stupid people = lots and lots of potential employees.

    March 30th, 2014 1:40 pm Reply
  • Shelley Roderick via Facebook

    As do their parents :)

    March 30th, 2014 12:28 pm Reply
  • Healthy Homemakers via Facebook

    Thanks for sharing

    March 30th, 2014 11:48 am Reply
  • Sherri Killion via Facebook

    Christina Maria…what were we talking about yesterday?!?!

    March 30th, 2014 11:43 am Reply
  • Jeanne Koenigsreuter via Facebook

    So do their parents.

    March 30th, 2014 11:42 am Reply
  • Annie

    Being my son was/is a single father of 3 children since they where under 5. There was many times he would stop on the way home after picking up the kids at school, and get fast foods..
    Although never in the morning for breakfast…
    Although If that is what some parents have to do, it is better for the children to eat before going to school even crapy food, then not to eat anything.

    His children, My Grandchilden are now 23, 24, & 26..
    They went through school getting almost all A’s without studying, and do very nicely for them selfs.

    That said they all have high IQ’s…The younger ones is 165 IQ..

    I mainly eat Organic, and have been studying foods for sometime..When the kids where at my home, and it was often, they did ate healthy..

    Btw I think there is moderation…We know more about healthy, and Un-healthy foods today then they know a few years back..

    That said, I think this study is BS…

    March 30th, 2014 6:02 am Reply
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  • Debra

    My children are now grown. Having been brilliant students, they now have very successful business careers, despite having eaten a lot of fast food as kids.
    Everything is moderation.

    March 30th, 2014 12:12 am Reply
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  • michele

    I’m very new to this type of eating, but very happy with what I have learned here. One comment in particular I have kept in my mind was; your child would be better off actually missing a meal than eating at a fast food restaurant. After I thought about it I decided this was true and have embraced it. I dont think mine have missed one, but it was important for me to remove fast food as an option totally to force myself to be more creative when plans change or we are extra busy.

    October 29th, 2012 12:46 am Reply
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  • Helen T

    Below is an actual comment I overheard one kid tell another a long while back:
    “My grades went up when I stopped eating at McDonalds”

    October 22nd, 2012 3:44 pm Reply
    • Helen T

      **Also, for those who’ve never seen the time-lasp video of McDonald’s french fries – well, nobody would ever consider THOSE THINGS food fit for humans consumption after viewing it: weeks and weeks and the fries never rot.

      October 22nd, 2012 3:51 pm Reply
  • Michelle Nadauld via Facebook

    I would love an article on how your stomach and mind is stimulated by the preparation (and smell) of food. It does change your bodies chemistry and teaches focus and patience in kids, which has a lot to do with learning!

    October 22nd, 2012 1:01 pm Reply
  • Stanley Fishman

    The chemicals and vegetable oils used in fast food are bad for the brain, bad for the body, bad for everything. Fast food is all about profit, and only the cheapest ingredients are used, with the taste coming form chemical flavor enhancers that are addictive.

    In fact, wild animals and insects will not touch fast food when it was left outside, and many people have done this experifment.

    This study is no surprise, only confirming what common sense has told us for a very long time.
    The old saying is true, We are what we eat. It is much better for us to be made of real food, not chemical soaked garbage.

    October 22nd, 2012 10:58 am Reply
  • Joyanne Teachout via Facebook

    I don’t think the food us the problem. It’s the parenting. Running life at full speed keeps the kids from interacting with adults. The same is also true if the parent is too lazy. Opportunities to learn are in every moment of every day. Children are so receptive to all that is around them. Teaching them that fast, greasy food is a treat, dinner every Friday, or when mom is tired, engraves the wrong ideals into their life.

    October 22nd, 2012 12:36 am Reply
  • CarolLynn Smith via Facebook

    ha ha while the lower IQ is eating their McDonalds, the higher IQ is owning their stocks.

    October 21st, 2012 11:36 pm Reply
  • sara r.

    I joke with my friends that I finally understood the appeal of a drive-through when I had my first child. Now with 2 young children, I REALLY understand the appeal. 2 sleeping kids, or one who is awake and one just nodding off? Oh how awesome to just be able to roll down the window and get some food.

    But I don’t go. No way. My mom raised us on homecooked meals, and that’s what I provide for my children. We sometimes go to Chipotle for a sit-down meal, but that’s rare. I just cannot bear paying hard-earned money for crap that has almost no nutrition. I have a friend who is a single mom with 3 kids, and she used to provide healthy snacks for her kids (she was the first person I knew to make their own salad dressing!), but I’ve noticed since her husband left she has gotten really lax with their diets. They are constantly sick, all of them have allergies or food aversions or asthma, and she doesn’t seem to see that the McDonalds isn’t helping..it makes me sad.

    October 21st, 2012 11:24 pm Reply
  • Kristina Campbell

    We gave up fast food long before having a child, well my husband will have some a couple times a year, but not me. I am commenting for two reasons. I want to share the jerky I choose. It is grassfed beef, fabulous and pretty well priced. http://www.grasslandbeef.com/Categories.bok?category=Grassland+Beef%3ABeef+Jerky

    The other reason I am writing is because Halloween is pending and my husband is not on board with me about the candy situation. He thinks that Halloween and a few other holidays should be a pass for the kids. My son is 2.5 yrs this year and he will be very aware of the candy while Trick or Treating with his cousins. He is a very reasonable child and I have considered making a 3 pieces of candy deal with him. I still feel guilty about this choice. What do other traditional cooking moms choose to do about such holidays and events?

    I would love any feed back and opinion.
    Thanks!

    October 21st, 2012 6:20 pm Reply
  • Maria Phillips via Facebook

    Essential fatty acids are essential for proper brain development and functioning.

    October 21st, 2012 2:37 pm Reply
  • Jeanette Caldwell via Facebook

    C’mon isn’t that already spread enough? Move on and share some new topics! Thank you.

    October 21st, 2012 1:23 pm Reply
  • Isabel Johnson via Facebook

    Not eating the bun or drinking the soda isn’t going to make more nutrients appear in the food. You’re still eating nutrition lacking meat. One has to consume nutrition rich foods to feed the body and mind.

    October 21st, 2012 1:14 pm Reply
  • thehealthyhomeeconomist via Facebook

    @Primal Scientist exactly! I don’t need a study to tell me that kids will be dumber if they eat fast food. People have abdicated their common sense and intuition for double blind studies which is one reason why they are led astray by stealth science so easily and by the time the end all and be all study comes along that “proves” the obvious truth to them, they are already disabled or dead.

    October 21st, 2012 1:09 pm Reply
  • Elizabeth Leitch-Devlin via Facebook

    Have you watched FatHead? By skipping the buns, fries, and soda, just eating the meat, you can lose weight and improve your cholesterol score even though you’re eating fast food.

    October 21st, 2012 1:07 pm Reply
  • thehealthyhomeeconomist via Facebook

    @Brian I disagree. Parent student ratio will never compensate for the child’s brain being underdeveloped for lack of nutrients.

    October 21st, 2012 1:07 pm Reply
  • thehealthyhomeeconomist via Facebook

    Those are one and the same … eating fast food IS not thinking about nutrition.

    October 21st, 2012 1:06 pm Reply
  • Amy

    When we began changing our diet more than 7 years ago, I found that we were eating fast food for lunch very frequently because my errands were taking us beyond lunch time and we were tired and hungry. It was very easy to just drive through somewhere. I kicked this habit two ways: I timed our errands so that we left earlier and got home before lunch so we could eat lunch right when we got home, AND, if I knew we would be out longer (if there was even a remote chance) I would simply pack lunches. Simple as that! Nothing fancy – at that time it was as simple as PB&J, a piece of fruit, and milk or water. Not the most nutrient dense meal, but we were still learning and anything I put together for them was far better than a fast food lunch. We were able to kick the fast food habit for dinnertime when I simply got angry enough to say “STOP!” and started making a weekly menu based on our activities. When we had to be at the ball field during dinner, I would pack a simple meal of burritos or homemade burgers wrapped in foil and kept warm in an insulated container. We were the envy of all the other families as we sat there eating our fresh homemade meal in the stands while they stared at their processed cheese nachos! Eventually I invested in a large thermos and we were able to have soup or chili at the ball field when the weather cooled off. When my husband would have to be at church early on a weeknight, in order to maintain a family meal and still not eat out, I took stew in the crockpot and homemade biscuits and we would picnic outside or if it was bad weather we would find a quiet corner in the church building and eat together. Other times, we would simply park the car and eat in the car if there was nowhere else to go. We kicked our fast food habit and never looked back! Get angry about what this horrible food is doing to you and our environment, and let that anger motivate you to make some changes! Eventually, it will become a habit and a way of life and your family will thank you!

    October 21st, 2012 12:50 pm Reply
    • Lindsey

      This was a very nicely written post. Thank you for the inspiring words.

      October 22nd, 2012 6:50 pm Reply
  • Brian J. Swanson via Facebook

    Food is fuel for the body and that includes the brain. Of coarse bad nurtrition is one of the causes. Teacher to student ratio both parents working, too much t.v., not enough critical thinking and not building a proper foundation of health when the children are young. These all come into play along with several others. It’s never just one thing.

    October 21st, 2012 12:47 pm Reply
  • Lana

    $8 for 2.2 ounces of jerky? I didn’t feed my kids junk food, but I couldn’t have managed the price of this jerky. Jerky was a rare treat on camping trips and I made my own.

    October 21st, 2012 11:43 am Reply
    • Sarah, TheHealthyHomeEconomist

      Making jerky is wonderful! I’ve done it a few times but this brand is worth it to me and I buy what I can as I like to support companies making great products. Buffalo meat is expensive yes, but our food budget is cheaper than almost everyone I know with a family our size and we eat only the best. Cut out the junk and the expensive stuff fits in rather easily.

      October 21st, 2012 1:03 pm Reply
  • Elizabeth Leitch-Devlin via Facebook

    This is an observational study and so cause and effect can’t be determined, only that the two occur together. It could quite well be that kids with low IQs are more likely to eat fast food because they don’t think about nutrition, not that fast food makes you stupid.

    October 21st, 2012 11:35 am Reply
    • Pam

      The article states that the researchers adjusted for wealth & social status. Both wealth & social status are loosely tied to intelligence, so in a round-about way, researchers did take intelligence into account…. Anyway, these were young kids. They didn’t chose their meals, their parents did.

      October 23rd, 2012 9:08 pm Reply
  • Amie Carroll White via Facebook

    That’s what I was thinking, Bobbie. Though I’m sure lack of proper nutrition does come into play with lower IQ, but it also stands to reason that the socioeconomic background of those eating fast food is more closely correlated to IQ. Or that intelligence plays a tremendous role in our decisions to avoid fast food. (not to say that all those who eat naturally are geniuses or anything, I’m certainly not, or that those who don’t eat naturally are stupid, but you cannot assume a simple cause/effect with this many variables)

    October 21st, 2012 11:22 am Reply
  • Alex Kombucha via Facebook

    @Bobbie Tornblom u got it exactly

    October 21st, 2012 11:11 am Reply
  • Primal Scientist via Facebook

    “the science” indeed haha, many are losing their primal (common) sense

    October 21st, 2012 11:09 am Reply
  • Bobbie Tornblom via Facebook

    correlation does not imply causation. Stupid people eat fast food.

    October 21st, 2012 11:05 am Reply
    • Lindsey

      I was just about to post pretty much the same thing, but you did it in fewer words and more concisely than I would have. Kudos!

      October 22nd, 2012 6:48 pm Reply
  • Joe Beecher via Facebook

    So if I eat at McDonalds I vote for Obama?

    October 21st, 2012 11:05 am Reply
    • Jen

      Not funny. I’m a real foodie, don’t eat McDonald’s or feed it to my children, and I will be voting for Obama. This really isn’t the forum for politics. There are people who believe in real food from both political parties.

      October 21st, 2012 4:52 pm Reply
      • bookwrmb

        But would your children vite for Obama if they were provided all the facts? Maybe you had too much fast food when you were a kid. You only report that you are a foodie now, but we don’t know what you were eating when your brain was forming.

        March 30th, 2014 8:54 am Reply
  • Anne Fulmer via Facebook

    Thanks, sharing

    October 21st, 2012 10:58 am Reply
  • Tricia Martin Jancik via Facebook

    Go figure

    October 21st, 2012 10:55 am Reply

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