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Junk food diet ‘makes children badly behaved’

Posted on: October 8, 2010

Diets high in processed foods are causing bad behaviour and learning

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difficulties in children, scientists have warned.

They claim junk food stops the brain working properly, leading to underachievement and a host of disorders.

Such foods not only lack the vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids that boost brain power but actually reduce the body’s uptake of nutrients that improve concentration, a study has found.

Thousands of children given medication to combat attention deficit disorder might be better off simply improving their diet, according to the research.

The Oxford University study showed that giving children essential fats found in fish and nuts could improve their brain power.

Their ability to learn was increased and their behaviour dramatically improved by supplementing their diets with such fats.

Startling results

Startling results in children who were underachieving and in some cases being disruptive were recorded after just three months.

The study involved more than 100 British children battling with physical co-ordination problems.

They were given daily supplements rich in omega-3 essential fats that are vital for brain development but have been reduced in the national diet over the last couple of decades.

In the study, around 40 per cent of children given omega-3 supplements made dramatic improvements in reading and spelling.

There was also a significant improvement in concentration and behaviour, according to a report in this month’s issue of the American journal Pediatrics.

Researchers were led by Dr Alexandra Richardson, from Oxford University’s department of physiology.

“What we’ve shown is that you can improve behaviour and learning with these oils,” she said.

“Food affects behaviour. To ignore the role of nutrition is indefensible. If you paid attention to diet you could really make a difference.”

Patrick Holford, who runs the Brain Bio Centre which tackles mental health problems through nutrition, said: “We’re seeing outrageous imbalances in brain chemistry caused by the kinds of foods that sadly millions of kids are eating, and no one’s doing anything about it.

“These kids are digging their own graves with a knife and fork. We know some fats found in processed and fried foods should be avoided.

“However, there are other fats that are essential and a deficiency can negatively impact on a child’s behaviour.”

The study involved 117 children aged five to 12 in schools in County Durham.

The children were of normal ability but underachieving and suspected of having dyspraxia, a condition that affects co-ordination. It is thought to affect at least 5 per cent of British pupils.

Even greater numbers have learning and behavioural disorders such as dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Half the children were given omega-3 essential fats capsules for three months, while the remainder were given “dummy” treatment with capsules of olive oil.

Making progress

Those on omega-3s made up to ten months’ progress in reading in three months, compared with those taking olive oil who made normal progress.

When the children swapped treatments, there was a similar jump forward for those transferred to omega-3s for the second three-month period.

After three months on the supplements, half showed such improvement they were no longer classified as having problems.

In some cases, children improved their reading age by up to four years.

Dr Richardson, who is also co-director of the Food and Behaviour Research charity, said unhealthy dietary fats can actually displace the healthy fats in the brain.

Known as trans fats, they are mostly found in processed foods such as crisps, biscuits and cakes.

Many teenagers get 40 per cent of their calories from fat.

The researchers are worried that such poor diets could permanently damage brain development.


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