Background/objectives: To determine whether a 'junk food' diet at age 4(1/2) is associated with behavioural problems at age 7.
Subjects/methods: Data on approximately 4000 children participating in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, a birth cohort recruited in Avon, UK in 1991/92 were used. Behavioural problems were measured at age 7 using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ; maternal completion). Total difficulties and scores for the five sub-scales (hyperactivity, conduct and peer problems, emotional symptoms and pro-social behaviour) were calculated. Principal components analysis of dietary data (frequency of consumption of 57 foods/drinks) collected at age 4(1/2) by maternal report was used to generate a 'junk food' factor. Data on confounders were available from questionnaires.
Results: A one standard deviation increase in 'junk food' intake at age 4(1/2) years was associated with increased hyperactivity at age 7 (odds ratio: 1.19; 95% confidence interval: 1.10, 1.29). This persisted after adjustment for confounders including intelligence quotient score (odds ratio: 1.13; 95% confidence interval: 1.01, 1.15). There was little evidence to support an association between 'junk food' intake and overall behavioural difficulties or other sub-scales of the SDQ.
Conclusions: Children eating a diet high in 'junk food' in early childhood were more likely to be in the top 33% on the SDQ hyperactivity sub-scale at age 7. This may reflect a long-term nutritional imbalance, or differences in parenting style. This finding requires replication before it can provide an avenue for intervention.