Every parent has a little catch in their throat when their child leaves for the first day of a new school year. No matter the age, this event has a lot of hopes attached to it. To get your child off to the best start, cast aside the issues over what kinds of sneakers to wear, backpacks to carry or school supplies everyone else has purchased. Focus on what really has the potential to place your child at the head of the class: superior nutrition.
Children are not immune to the damaging health effects of the Standard American Diet (SAD). Youth forgives a lot, but it can’t circumvent the detrimental effects caused by a diet of low-nutrient foods. Poor nutritional choices can set children up for a lifetime of poor health, ranging from heart disease to behavior problems and lower cognitive performance.
Studies have implicated a poor diet in limiting intelligence and school performance, while also drawing parallels between consumption of sweets during childhood and violence in adulthood.1, 2Plus, higher sugar-sweetened beverage consumption is linked to an increase in diabetes and cardiovascular disease.3, 4
Higher fast food consumption in fifth grade, meaning eating this type of food four or more times a week, has been associated with poorer academic progress in math, reading and science between fifth and eighth grades. Children who ate fast food one to three times per week, compared to those who ate no fast food, had lower scores in math. These results suggest that children who eat fast food frequently could inhibit their academic progress.5 A connection between junk food and behavior was found in a study on 4000 children in the UK; a diet higher fast food and snack foods high in added fats and sugars at age 4 ½ was linked to a greater likelihood of hyperactivity at age 7.6
A study on soda consumption asked mothers to assess the behavior and attentiveness of their five-year-old children, and found a higher incidence of problems with increasing daily consumption of soda. Of the children in the study, 43 percent drank soda at least once a day. The authors adjusted their results for potential confounding factors that might affect behavior, such as hours of television and a stressful home environment, and still found a significant association between drinking soda and aggression, withdrawn behavior, and poor attention.7
Blood glucose levels do affect brain function, and habitual high sugar intake has been shown to impair cognitive function.8 Several studies on high school students have also associated sugar consumption with aggressive behavior, as well as depression and self-harming habits.9-12
On average, children and teens in the United States consume 200 calories daily from soda and other sugar-laden drinks, and it is estimated that about 14 percent of their calories come from fast food.13, 14 Added sweeteners are not only hiding just in beverages, they are also lurking in the processed foods many consider to be healthful: flavored yogurt, tomato sauce, salad dressing and bread. Often, these foods do not even taste remotely sweet, yet they are loaded with sugar.
To ensure your child has the best chance of a productive school year and a healthy future, a nutrient-dense, plant-rich diet is optimal. This eating style increases resistance to common illnesses like asthma, ear infections and allergies. In addition, this Nutritarian provides a powerful weapon against future cardiovascular disease, cancer, and autoimmune disorders. Children who eat this healthfully will grow up at a healthy weight, appreciate healthy food and be able to participate in exercise, and in turn, will grow up to be healthy adults.
- Smithers LG, Golley RK, Mittinty MN, et al. Dietary patterns at 6, 15 and 24 months of age are associated with IQ at 8 years of age. Eur J Epidemiol 2012, 27:525-535.
- Moore SC, Carter LM, van Goozen S. Confectionery consumption in childhood and adult violence. Br J Psychiatry 2009, 195:366-367.
- Malik VS, Hu FB. Sweeteners and Risk of Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes: The Role of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages. Curr Diab Rep 2012.
- Johnson RK, Appel LJ, Brands M, et al. Dietary sugars intake and cardiovascular health: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation 2009, 120:1011-1020.
- Purtell KM, Gershoff ET. Fast Food Consumption and Academic Growth in Late Childhood. Clin Pediatr (Phila) 2014.
- Wiles NJ, Northstone K, Emmett P, Lewis G. 'Junk food' diet and childhood behavioural problems: results from the ALSPAC cohort. Eur J Clin Nutr 2009, 63:491-498.
- Suglia SF, Solnick S, Hemenway D. Soft drinks consumption is associated with behavior problems in 5-year-olds. J Pediatr 2013, 163:1323-1328.
- Ye X, Gao X, Scott T, Tucker KL. Habitual sugar intake and cognitive function among middle-aged and older Puerto Ricans without diabetes. Br J Nutr 2011, 106:1423-1432.
- Solnick SJ, Hemenway D. The 'Twinkie Defense': the relationship between carbonated non-diet soft drinks and violence perpetration among Boston high school students. Inj Prev 2012, 18:259-263.
- Solnick SJ, Hemenway D. Soft drinks, aggression and suicidal behaviour in US high school students. Int J Inj Contr Saf Promot 2014, 21:266-273.
- Lien L, Lien N, Heyerdahl S, et al. Consumption of soft drinks and hyperactivity, mental distress, and conduct problems among adolescents in Oslo, Norway. Am J Public Health 2006, 96:1815-1820.
- Pan X, Zhang C, Shi Z. Soft drink and sweet food consumption and suicidal behaviours among Chinese adolescents. Acta Paediatr 2011, 100:e215-222.
- Lasater G, Piernas C, Popkin BM. Beverage patterns and trends among school-aged children in the US, 1989-2008. Nutr J 2011, 10:103.
- Rehm CD, Drewnowski A. A new method to monitor the contribution of fast food restaurants to the diets of US children. PLoS One 2014, 9:e103543.
- May AL, Kuklina EV, Yoon PW. Prevalence of Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors Among US Adolescents, 1999-2008. Pediatrics 2012, 129:1035.