Cookies work magic with children, but exactly what kind of magic they work is in the eye of the beholder. Sure, the allure of a delicious, sugary snack might get your little one to sit for a minute while you finish ironing your blouse, but that kind of short-term behavior management could lead to a longer, more frustrating day. Research has shown that there is a link between junk food and hyperactivity in some children, so it may be wise to think twice before giving into those puppy-dog eyes.
Not Too Fresh
The old adage that “if you can’t pronounce an ingredient, it isn’t good for you” might not just be something your meddling mother-in-law says. In fact, most foods that we call “junk” are made in factories, crammed into boxes and sent across the country to be consumed. The companies behind them know that the snacks will need to last long enough to be shipped, shelved and purchased before being eaten. That means fancy food science has to be involved to preserve the freshness. The real problem is that research conducted by the FDA in May 2011 concluded that artificial additives (like preservatives) have been proven to cause certain children to hype-out — especially those who already suffer from ADHD. And as we all know, an overly-hyper child can be hard to manage.
Not Too Sweet
Sugary snacks and candy are wonderful when used as a reward and in moderation, but high amounts of sugar can be troubling when it comes to behavior. You may find yourself in the grocery store overhearing a parent as she tells her child “No, you can’t have that candy bar. You will be bouncing off the walls!” It is a parental belief that feels instinctual to keep sugar away from youngsters. Thankfully, researchers at the University of Maryland Medical Center were brave enough to tackle the issue of sugar and activity levels in children. It turns out that the kinds of processed sugars found in junk food enter the bloodstream almost instantly, which can cause an adrenaline rush in a child. The sudden extra energy could drive a parent up the wall if it comes at a time when there is no easy outlet for the child.
Not Too Colorful
It doesn’t take a fancy degree to recognize that rainbow colored sugary foods are not what the doctor ordered for a young child or toddler. Somewhere along the line, those junk foods were colored — most likely artificially. Most brightly colored cereals could be considered junk food, as could most sweetened drinks. The research is pretty clear when it comes to artificial food coloring and behavior. In 2009, Harvard Health Publications released an article that referenced a study conducted in England on 153 preschoolers at 3 years old. After testing with “six artificial food colorings,” they found that there was a “mild but significant increase in hyperactivity.” That being said, there’s still no clear consensus on the effects of food coloring in most children.
Not Too Nutritious
When a snack food or junky drink is so choc-full of fillers, preservatives, additives and artificial colors, there isn’t much room for nutrients. In fact, many junk foods are comprised of “empty carbohydrates” — a term that means they contain high calories, but not much good. Often a lack of proper nutrition can cause young children to act up, especially if they already suffer from attention deficit issues. In an article called “Diet and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder” from Harvard Health Publications, researchers have found that certain nutrients not present in junk food are already low in children who struggle with some behavior issues. This means that the more junk they eat, the less likely they are to get the vitamins they need to stay focused and well-behaved.