Fat kids are dumber – a study and a scientist say so!

[TW: fat hatred masquerading rather openly as science.]

Here we go again.  Another study that is going to teach us all about how two things are somehow in the same realm of possibilities and so therefore must be forced into a fake casual relationship.  All in the name of shaming.

This round: Poor diets may lower children’s IQ (notice that “may” in there – that’s important).

Here’s what the Guardian says about this:

A predominantly processed-food diet at the age of three is directly associated with a lower IQ at the age of eight and a half, according to a Bristol-based study of thousands of British children.  The Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children is tracking the long-term health and wellbeing of around 14,000 children.  Food packed with vitamins and nutrients notably helped boost mental performance as youngsters got older, the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health reports. […]

“This suggests that any cognitive/behavioural effects relating to eating habits in early childhood may well persist into later childhood, despite any subsequent changes to dietary intake,” the authors wrote.

During the study, parents completed questionnaires detailing the types and frequency of the food and drink their children consumed when they were three, four, seven and eight-and-a-half years old.  Every one-point increase in the study’s dietary pattern score – a record of processed fat intake – was associated with a 1.67-point fall in IQ. […]

The School Food Trust’s director of research, Michael Nelson, said: “Given that around 23% of children start school either overweight or obese, it’s absolutely clear that healthy choices as part of their early development will stand children in good stead – not only for keeping a healthy weight as they grow up, but as this evidence suggests, improving their ability to do well at school.

“These findings also demonstrate the importance of helping everyone involved with children’s early development to get the information and advice they need on good nutrition.”

Wow.  Those parents feeding their kids that shit should stop feeding their kids that shit!  Problem fucking solved.  You’re welcome.

I’m sure that this has nothing to do with class, access to education (both in school and out of it), access to doctors, the money to purchase whole foods, the time to cook meals at home, having health care, the fact that IQ tests are flawed, or the fact that studies that rely on parents to fill out forms and tell the truth are flawed (this is just the list I came up with in about two minutes of brainstorming – feel free to add more in comments).  Because if it did, those scientists would have mentioned it, right?  I mean, they are scientists!  And I’m sure that if the scientists did mention any of those things, that the Guardian would have, too.  Because that is called good journalism.  And if this article is anything, it is good science coupled with good journalism.

It’s always interesting to me when science just so happens to support some prevalent idea floating around in our society, in this case that fat people who eat shit food are dumber than skinnier people who eat not-shit food (you see how the study seems to not be about weight, just diet. But then that there director of research, he turns it into an issue about obesity so easily – I’m sure they were thinking about that connection while producing this garbage).  This study just happens to exactly backup how society feels about fat people, poor people, and stupid people, and all the overlap between the three.  Here it is,  all rolled into a single study.  One based on lots of flaws, the word “may”, and things that are probably just corollaries of each other and not causally related.

We can now shake our fingers and our heads even harder at those people, those fat, processed-food eating, stupid people.  Feels good, right?

Most people will simply read the title of the article, nod their heads, judge the people who feed their kids crap food, assume those people and their kids are obese (just like the scientist heading the study does) and then feel really good inside knowing that they don’t do that.  Or they will read it, know they feed their kids the processed stuff, and will be rightfully shamed for their behavior.

Yay!  I love when studies that are supposedly science are published in newspapers so that a lay person can gobble up that info without really having to think about it.  That’s good for society.  My smart, whole-foods-nourished brain tells me that.

What really makes me sad is when I read a post like this one at the Grist, which is a site I generally like.  It just takes the study at face value and basically re-posts it for a whole new audience (one probably made up of snobby foodies as it is).  And Grist got this from Jezebel, which did the same thing.

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6 thoughts on “Fat kids are dumber – a study and a scientist say so!

  1. The next time you walk in a grocery store check this out. They all have the same layout. The perimeter has all the fresh foods, the deli, produce, bakery, fresh fish, fresh meats, dairy, juices. Everything good for you is on the perimeter.

    Everything in the center, all those aisle and shelves are stocked with processed, packaged or frozen foods. And this is in a modern upscaled super market! If you live in a poor neighborhood, the shelves stay and the perimeter choices are lessen.

    Yet some how, poor people are believed to have equal opportunity In food selection.

  2. I notice the study is about dietary pattern score but the comment is about obesity rates. I wonder if they bothered to check to see if those are correlated. Conventional wisdom says they are, but if you are doing the conventional wisdom thing, why do the study? Conventional wisdom already says fat kids are stupid.

    I think it’s pretty cool that the correlation between dietary pattern score and IQ is linear to a precision of a hundredth of an IQ point. Man, that’s scientificolicious. Math-book scientificolicious, where you can draw a graph with a nice straight line. Not like the messy curves you usually get when you graph data. Pretty darned good for graphing two arbitrary scales.

  3. I know – the fresh stuff on the outside is so interesting. I actually heard Michael Pollan speak recently and he was talking about the layout of the grocery store. The thing that I remember, though, is him saying that with the same amount of money, on the outside edges of the store (the fresh food, basically) you can purchase maybe 10% of the calories that you can purchase in those middle aisles. So, if you are strapped for cash, shopping on a very tight budget, and buying groceries to maximize how many calories you can get into your family’s bodies, you are going to go to the middle. You options become so few so fast, and you have little choice but to buy the processed stuff that, well, could possibly be making your child dumber.

    Thanks for reading and commenting about this. I feel very passionate about this issue – the need to get fresh food to people who don’t have access to it. I am not sure yet what I will do with my life but more and more, I would like to direct my efforts in that direction.

  4. Math-book scientifcolicious

    Perhaps my most favorite thing I have read today.

    I think the problem is exactly what you pinpoint – that the study doesn’t comment on obesity (you know if it did they would have quoted it) but yet the scientist, when talking about the study, feels like they have to mention that. I appreciate that the Guardian doesn’t use that angle in the title of the piece – that was an easy option. But as I was reading, I knew that obesity would get mentioned.

    I have to admit that the science is not really my thing so I will take your word on its coolness.

  5. I’m not a scientist, I just like science and studied math in college. And bullsh*t numbers amuse the heck out of me.

    I was being sarcastic. The bit about “Every one-point increase in the study’s dietary pattern score – a record of processed fat intake – was associated with a 1.67-point fall in IQ” means that if you graph the dietary pattern score against the kid’s IQ the result is a straight line. To the nearest 1/100th of an IQ point. That basically never happens in the real world, even with numbers that correspond to real things (except in special cases like temperature and pressure of a gas, where glorious natural laws can be discovered) much less made-up scales of numbers like DPS and IQ. And even if IQ is a valid measure of anything, measuring it to the 1/100 of a point is meaningless. The author is using excessive precision to sound scientific. The numbers as presented are meaningless.

    The sad part is that long-term longitudinal studies with a large population are an excellent way to learn about child development. They cost a ton and take forever, but they are gold. If done right.

  6. See how little I understand math? I even missed your sarcasm.

    This is incredibly fascinating, though. The fact that the numbers are meaningless makes this so much worse. This is part of the problem with scientists releasing studies on small groups and making HUGE assumptions under the name of “science”, which then get translated to the public through the MSM. Most of us, like me, don’t understand the science. Turns out, when you do, it makes the study bullshit. And yet now people will quote this study as something definitive about why we need reform when it comes to our food supply and distribution systems by reinforcing a false idea that this is casually related to kids being dumber. There is so much wrong with that.

    I really, really appreciate your comments. Thanks for cluing me in.

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