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Take that candy away from that baby—or that child or teenager, for that matter. Junk food, including sweets, highly processed snacks, and fried and takeaway grub, could be causing attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder in children and adolescents, according to a new study by Australia’s Telethon Institute for Child Health and Research. Researchers, who examined the diets of 1,800 teens, found that “western-style” diets more than doubled the risk of an ADHD diagnosis, compared with a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, even after adjusting for social and family factors.
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The study, which was published in the current issue of the Journal of Attention Disorders, cross-checked the diets of the adolescents with whether or not they received an ADHD diagnosis by the age of 14. “When we looked at specific foods, having an ADHD diagnosis was associated with a diet high in takeaway foods, processed meats, red meat, high-fat dairy products, and confectionary,” says associate professor Wendy Oddy, who led the study.
A healthful diet, on the other hand, would consist primarily of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fish, which tend to be higher in omega-3 fatty acids, folate, and fiber. A diet that is higher in omega-3 fatty acids is believed to boost mental health and brain function, notes Oddy. A “western” diet could also contain more artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives that have been associated with an increase in ADHD symptoms.
Still, more research needs to be done, admits Oddy. “This is a cross-sectional study so we cannot be sure whether a poor diet leads to ADHD or whether ADHD leads to poor dietary choices and cravings,” she says.