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Junk Food and Behavioral Changes: Are They Connected?

Medically reviewed by Mae Charisse Antalan, MD · General Practitioner

Written by Nikita Bhalla · Updated Sep 20, 2023

Junk Food and Behavioral Changes: Are They Connected?

Junk food and behavioral changes? Is there a connection? Tiredness, boredom, and anger can result in poor behavior. It is the same for children as well. However, there is one more reason that can lead to bad behavior among children. The type of food that children eat can also contribute to their inability to behave appropriately. Junk food is considered as the culprit and restricting its intake is a potential way to cut down on specific types of behavior.

Unhealthy food can be attractive for a wide range of reasons including convenience and taste. For children who do not always know the health causes of their eating habits, junk foods may appear particularly appetizing. Sugary foods are often attributed to behavioral problems in children, but other unhealthy ingredients are also responsible. Artificial colors and preservatives are examples of some of these ingredients that make food qualify as unhealthy food.

Junk Food and Behavioral Changes

Junk Food and Its Connection with Addictive Behavior

When children have had a taste of food that comprises saturated sugar and fats, they get addicted to the taste and crave for more. In fact, simple carbohydrates such as candy, soda, desserts, and white bread actually stimulate the part of the brain that is linked to rewards and satisfaction.

Once children eat junk food, they love the taste and texture, which stimulates the specific part of the brain. This leads to the release of ‘feel-good’ chemicals from the brain that boosts happiness. Dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins are some of the chemicals. This gets your kids ‘addicted’ to junk food, making it a much more preferred option than fruits and vegetables.

Unhealthy Food and Its Connection with Hyperactivity

A sugar high is something most parents are afraid of. There is a connection between sugar consumption and out-of-control behavior. Junk food and food with high sugar content reduce energy levels and the ability to focus for extended periods of time. The sugar found in soda, desserts, and white bread reaches the bloodstream quickly, which leads to a fast rise in blood sugar. This can result in increased activity in children. Soda, in particular, can also bring about an inability to pay attention and concentrate.

Junk Food and Its Connection with Aggression

Children who eat junk food frequently might be more aggressive than their peers who have a healthier diet.

A survey by Boston Youth Survey shows the connection between sugary drinks and aggression. It says children who drink sugary sodas are prone to violent behavior, significantly more than other children. 

Junk Food and Its Connection with Concentration and Energy

Physical activity is also important to children of all ages for holistic growth and development. Frequently eating junk food does not offer the necessary nutrients children need for sufficient energy for physical activity. A lack of physical activity is harmful to their physical and mental well-being. It may also isolate a child from critical social development.

Unhealthy Food and Its Connection With Self-Confidence and Depression

Self-esteem and confidence in oneself are particularly important for growing children. Their impressionable minds are susceptible to external influences, which may adversely affect them – deliberately or inadvertently.

Unhealthy food can be detrimental to a child’s physical development, which becomes evident through symptoms like unhealthy weight gain, self-esteem problems etc. Low self-esteem can result in consequences like depression, which usually hazardous effects for children. This, again, will affect their growth and development, performance in school and social relationships and can ultimately bring about suicide.

Eating junk food regularly is a strict no-no, especially there has been an established link between junk food and behavioral changes. However, it does not also mean that children should be kept away from it altogether. Trying to keep them away permanently will make children feel more tempted towards junk food. This may make them find ways of eating them without your knowledge. However, they should only be offered as occasional treats – as an act of appreciation for anything praiseworthy done by them or maybe an indulgence on a weekend outing. 

Learn more about Child Health here


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Mae Charisse Antalan, MD

General Practitioner

Written by Nikita Bhalla · Updated Sep 20, 2023

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