Ever heard of the “Jersey Shore Effect”?
I’m guessing not, since I just made it up. It’s the name I’ve given to the popular pastime of blaming the “dumbing down of America” on the fact that our airwaves are now overflowing with reality-TV drivel.
Now, I’m certainly not going to defend the binge-drinking shenanigans of Snookie and her fellow cast of characters. And I can honestly say I’ve never had the least little bit of a desire to watch Kim Kardashian and her flock of sisters stage fights and parade about in front of a gaggle of paparazzi.
But, as reluctant as I am to admit it, the fact is we might just owe these reality-show divas a little bit of an apology. It turns out that in a chicken-or-the-egg type-twist, the “dumbing down” may actually be taking place long before a child has the manual dexterity to work a remote control.
Research published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health points to a diet high in processed foods as the real culprit. Scientists say that a junk-food diet early in life may be literally causing our kids to lose IQ points.
When the researchers crunched the data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children—which tracked the long-term health of 14,000 children born in 1991 and 1992—they found some pretty compelling evidence that if at age 3 you’re eating a predominantly “processed-food” diet…one that is high in fat and sugar…you will have a lower IQ at age 8.5 than those eating a “traditional” (high in meat and vegetables) or “healthy” (high in salad, fruits, vegetables, rice, and pasta) diet.
Not only that…but on a standard scale used to measure the quality of a child’s diet for each one-point increase in the score towards the “processed food” diet they found a subsequent 1.67 fall in IQ.
The good news is that if you make a change to a child’s diet early…before age 3…you can have a positive impact. For each one-point increase in score towards a “healthy diet” the researchers found a 1.2 increase in IQ. But past the age of 4, it appears the damage is already done. The researchers found that changes in diet between the ages of 4 and 7 had no impact on a child’s IQ.
If you’re wondering why this is the case, the leading theory has to do with brain growth. Earlier research showed that the brain grows fastest during the first three years of life. So providing a growing brain with the nutrients it needs to develop likely results in a healthier brain and a higher IQ.
OK, so it looks like Snookie, Kim, and the rest might be off the hook when it comes to robbing our kids of IQ points, but all bets are off when it comes to robbing them of morals. Because, don’t forget, although reality TV may not steal IQ points it’s still devoid of them. Can I get an, “Amen!”?
“Are dietary patterns in childhood associated with IQ at 8 years of age? A population-based cohort study,” J Epidemiol Community Health, Published Online 7 February 2011, doi:10.1136/jech.2010.111955
“Understanding Brain Development in Young Children,” Sean Brotherson, Family Science Specialist, NDSU Extension Service, (www. ag.ndsu.edu)
“The NIH MRI study of normal brain development (Objective-2): Newborns, infants, toddlers, and preschoolers,” NeuroImage 35 (2007) 308–325, Available online 18 January 2007