The immediate effect fast food has on children

Everyone knows that a diet of fast food can eventually lead to obesity and type 2 diabetes, but here's what that takeaway meal will do to your kids before the sun goes down.

According to the Dubai-based nuritionist Rashi Chowdhary, when a child bites into a burger, the brain reward system is activated and the child will feel a complete lack of control and an intense demand from the brain for more food. iStockphoto
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“Please! Mum! Please! Please! Please! I really want one!” If constant whining has caused you to swerve into a drive-through to buy your kids burgers and chips, you’re not alone.

Forty per cent of UAE parents admitted that they often give into their children’s demands for junk food, according to a recent survey compiled for Al Aan TV’s Nabd Al Arab (Arabs’ Pulse) programme and The National, conducted by YouGov. But the next time you’re thinking about buying dinner on the go, bear in mind the impact it will have on your kids before the day is over.

Junk food will encourage your child to eat more

The fats, sugar and salt in fast food draw kids like a magnet, largely because they appeal to a child's "primordial tastes". "From an evolutionary point of view, humans are hard-wired to crave high-calorie food as a survival mechanism, so each time we see, smell or eat junk food, many chemicals and neurotransmitters are released in our body," explains Rashi Chowdhary, a nutritionist based in Dubai. (

“When your child bites into a burger, his brain reward system gets activated since dopamine, which is the main neurotransmitter responsible for pleasure and excitement, gets secreted. And then he will feel a complete lack of control and an intense demand from his brain for more,” adds Chowdhary.

If that isn’t enough to convince you to ditch the takeaway, a study published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine (a medical journal published by the American Medical Association) found that once children have eaten fast food, they consume more calories and fewer nutrients for the rest of the day. On days when kids ate fast food, compared with days when they ate at home, adolescents and young children consumed an additional 309 and 126 calories, respectively.

Junk food will damage arteries immediately

Experts have known for years that long-term consumption of junk food clogs arteries, but recently they've recognised that this damage begins the same day. A study published in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology indicates that damage to the arteries occurs almost immediately after just one – that's right, one – junk food meal.

Junk food will cause school work to suffer

Diet has a significant effect on children's study habits. Junk food and foods with high-sugar content deplete energy levels and the ability to concentrate for extended periods of time. "If a kid is having sweets, chocolate croissants or sweetened beverages during the first break time at school instead of his fruit portion or his sandwich, he would definitely feel hungry within an hour and that would disrupt his concentration in class, and could affect his overall performance in school," explains Chirine Watfa, a dietician at Health Factory, Dubai (

Want proof? In a study published in Child: Care, Health and Development (a European public health journal), researchers analysed the fast-food consumption and test scores in maths and reading of 12,000 fifth-graders. They found that children who ate fast food four to six times within a given week tested significantly lower in maths and reading compared with children who did not.

Junk food will make your kid depressed

Eating foods rich in antioxidants, such as fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats, such as cold-water fish and nuts, leads to positive energy and moods – both of which derive from positive brain function. A diet high in fast food lacks these nutritional benefits, increasing the risk of depression.

Junk food will put your child off healthy food

The artificial taste of junk food is thought to be addictive and children used to spicy junk food may have trouble adjusting their palates to relatively blander healthy foods.

“Another problem is that junk food tends to replace other, more nutritious, foods,” says Watfa. “When children are snacking on chips and cookies, they’re usually not having enough fruits and vegetables, which will decrease their vitamin C and fibre intakes.”

Junk food will cause constipation

Fast food typically lacks fibre. The less fibre children consume, the more likely they are to develop constipation, which can cause abdominal pain and discomfort. Will they know about it by the end of the day? Probably.

Junk food will make them irritable

“The high content of sugar in junk food causes fluctuations in children’s blood glucose levels,” says Chowdhary. “This makes them edgy, sleepy and irritable throughout the day and leaves them with no motivation to be active.”

Junk food will ruin bedtime

Having sugary drinks or fruit juice with dinner even twice a week can affect children’s sleep and wake-up cycle. The caffeine from sodas acts as a stimulant, keeping them awake longer and negatively affects their metabolism. “Studies have shown that moderate to high caffeine consumers [100 to 300mg of caffeine] have more disturbed and more interrupted sleep than low- or no-caffeine consumers,” says Watfa.

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