Fast food diet causes ADHD? No not really.

Western diet link to ADHD, Australian study finds

While newspapers around the world are saying this Australian study shows fast food diets, and diets with high fat content cause ADHD, the study doesn't say that. Actually the study says there is no proven link at all. Maybe kids with ADHD eat more junk food. Maybe their family's have work schedules that lead to more eating out. Maybe lots of things. Now eating fast food isn't a good idea. I try to avoid it if possible. I wouldn't feed my kids fast food very often if I had a choice. And I recommend healthier foods. But this study clearly says it doesn't really show any causal link between fast foods and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). So what is wrong with our media science reporters? They read blogs instead of the research. Like many people these reporters read blogs that have been written by individuals who already have an idea in their heads about how the world works and what causes what. And they twist information, use statistics to lie and confuse whenever possible, because their aim is to convince the public that they are right.

Avoid McDonald's if you can. But if your child has ADHD, McDonald's isn't the cause.

What's really awful, and you need to be aware of, is that even the authors of research can have some issue they are pushing that is beyond the limits of what the science says. That's the case here too.

The authors says: "We suggest that a Western dietary pattern may indicate the adolescent has a less optimal fatty acid profile, whereas a diet higher in omega-3 fatty acids is thought to hold benefits for mental health and optimal brain function. "It also may be that the Western dietary pattern doesn't provide enough essential micronutrients that are needed for brain function, particularly attention and concentration, or that a Western diet might contain more colours, flavours and additives that have been linked to an increase in ADHD symptoms. It may also be that impulsivity, which is a characteristic of ADHD, leads to poor dietary choices such as quick snacks when hungry." (By the way, there are some basic logical fallacies here, can you pick them out?)

IT MAY BE. Did you read that? This is the author talking to the press. IT MAY BE. That's what he says. I'll translate that, " I think this, but there is NO PROOF WHAT-SO-EVER." Research shows clearly that food additive have little to do with ADHD, except for a few kids who have a specific allergy to them. And that has nothing to do with ADHD. Food colouring? No evidence after years of trials and studies ....except a few kids who might have an allergy. Look elsewhere. Omega-3? He says "Is thought to have benefits..." Actually, with ADHD, it's clear there are NO benefits except a placebo effect. And the relationship between these diets, yes, crappy diets that will make your kid fat, and ADHD? "Dr Oddy said that whilst this study suggests that diet may be implicated in ADHD, more research is needed to determine the nature of the relationship." MAY BE IMPLICATED. Translation: "There is no evidence of a relationship. I just wish there was."

He finally admits: "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," ( Dr Oddy).

But please understand, the good doctor has given us a false choice, a false dichotomy. "If it isn't this, it must be that." That's not true, and not being fooled by such false choices is one of the basic things you learn in science. Teach that to your kids, because people use false choices like this all the time to take advantage of others. The truth is these two "facts" may have no relationship to each other, and most likely, the situation is that they are both related to something else, a third factor (like income, housing, genetics). Thats why there is a statistical correlation, and most scientists would know that. But that would be boring, and wouldn't get your research paper covered by the national media.

What do bloggers make of this? Here is one blog:

Fast-food teen diets tied to ADHD By William Atkins
Sunday, 01 August 2010 00:14
An Australian study has shown that teenagers have over double the risk of getting attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) when they eat unhealthy diets of highly processed and fast foods than when they eat healthy diets of fruits and vegetables.

Who said that? Where did that come from? It's nonsense, it has nothing to do with what the study says. Nothing.

A source in Indiana writes: "Pay Attention! Processed Foods May Lead To ADHD, Study Shows." No it doesn't. Why say that? But what a clever title, Pay attention - ADHD, get it. Makes you want to read it. If only as much effort was put into understanding what they were reporting on. Oh, the rest of the "healthy living page" this appears on is covered with ads for health food and organic this and that. Do you think the editors of that web page (Indiana Public Media no less) are aware that they are lying to the public about the research paper? Why would they do such a thing? (And people worry about big pharma.) It's an awful situation.

Bad science, and bad science reporting, leads to parents wasting their time, wasting their energy and wasting their money on fixes and cures that have been supported by weak and silly evidence like this. This irresponsible reporting is they type of "news" that leads people into avoiding real treatment that work for fake treatments that don't work. You know this article will now appear all over the web as proof that doctors want to poison your child with medications (scientifically proven interventions) in order to make money and are hiding the fact that it's really caused by diet and processed foods. (Not that their web pages, usually covered with health / organic this and that ads are trying to make a profit).

I'll agree with one thing: Fast food is a bad thing for kids...and adults. But so is bad science.

I'm much more concerned with the effects of bad science on the brains of our children than a medium fries at McDonald.

Information about my intervention programs for children and adults with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) can be found at my web site There is also specific information there about adult ADHD assessments and treatment. For that information click here. More general information on my practice can be found by clicking here or here. (Yep, it's basically an ad, but at least I'll admit it. I'm selling science!)

Dr. Jim Roche, Registered Psychologist