After Fatty Foods, Bodies & Brains are Out to Lunch

August 18, 2009

By Mark Bishop, Deputy Director

We've seen for years that exercise can lead to better memory and academic performance, but new research now shows similar (but opposite) effects for eating fatty foods.

New research by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology shows that eating fatty foods can have a negative impact on short-term memory and exercise performance.

It was found that rats fed a high-fat diet took longer to complete a maze, made more mistakes in the process, and increased levels of a protein in their blood that made them less efficient at using oxygen. And according to the New York Times, while the data hasn't been published, the short-term effects appears to be similar in humans. Gerald Weissmann, M.D., editor of the FASEB Journal said it well: “It's nothing short of a high-fat hangover.”

The implications are pretty clear for schools — serving high fat, unhealthy foods in a cafeteria could potentially harm academic performance.

This highlights the importance of nutrition education, improved nutrition standards, and getting fresh foods into school cafeterias. Investing in school food is also an investment in education. Maybe by making this connection, the necessary investment into school food programs becomes a bit easier to make.

So in your school, make sure your principal knows the connection between healthy food and learning outcomes. And let's all make sure that the Child Nutrition Act provides more money for better food in schools. Otherwise, as Dr. Weissmann said, we may continue to be sending, “our muscles and brains out to lunch.”