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The Effects of Junk Food on Bad Behavior in Children

By Sara Ipatenco

Parents and caregivers know how challenging children can be when they aren't in the mood to behave themselves. Being tired, bored or angry can lead to poor behavior, but what your child eats can also contribute to her inability to behave appropriately. Junk foods are widely regarded as a culprit, and limiting them in your child's diet is one potential way to cut down on certain types of behavior.

Ingredients That Make Junk Foods Junk

Sugary foods are often blamed for behavior problems in children, but other unhealthy ingredients can also be responsible. Artificial colors and preservatives added to food can influence how a child behaves, according to a 2009 article published in the "European Journal of Clinical Nutrition." Foods that contain large amounts of saturated fats, trans fats or sodium can also play a role in childhood behavior.

Junk Foods and Addictive Behaviors

Once children get a taste of sugary, fatty and salty foods, they crave those foods more often. In fact, simple carbohydrates, such as those in candy, soda, desserts and white bread, actually stimulate brain regions associated with reward and satisfaction, according to a 2013 article published in "The New York Times." In other words, when children eat junk foods, they enjoy the taste and texture, as well as the good feelings associated with that, and become "addicted" to that feeling, making them want junk over healthier foods such as fruits and vegetables.

Junk Foods and Hyperactivity

A sugar high is something most parents dread, and there is some validity to the link between sugar consumption and out-of-control behavior. Refined sugars, such as those in soda, desserts and white bread, reach the bloodstream quickly, which causes a fast rise in blood sugar. This can cause increased activity in children. Soda, in particular, can also cause an inability to pay attention and concentrate, according to a 2013 article published in "Time" magazine. Artificial colors and preservatives might have similar effects on children and their behavior, MedlinePlus notes.

Junk Foods and Aggression

Children who eat large amounts of junk foods might be more aggressive than their peers who eat a healthier diet. A 2011 article published in "Injury Prevention" reports that there is significant link between children who drink sugary sodas and violence. The study discovered that children who drank five or more sodas per day were 9 to 15 percent more likely to have carried a weapon or been aggressive toward family members or peers. While sugar is one cause of this behavior, caffeine might also be to blame since it can alter brain chemicals and hormones, "Time" magazine notes. Other factors not involved in the study could also be at work, authors of the "Injury Prevention" study said.

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