April 14, 2009
Fat And Happy: They Go Together In Taiwanese Children

Do happy kids decide to eat more food or does getting fatty change brain chemistry to make kids happier?

For the first time, Chang and Nayga looked at the relationship between unhealthy dietary habits and children’s psychological health. In particular, they studied the effects of fast food and soft drink consumption on children’s body weight and unhappiness.  Using data from the National Health Interview Survey in Taiwan - a nationwide survey carried out in 2001 – the authors looked at the fast food and soft drink consumption, body weight and level of happiness of 2,366 children aged between 2 and 12 years old.  Fast food included French fries, pizza and hamburgers; soft drinks included soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages.

A quarter of the children in the survey sample were overweight or obese and approximately 19 percent sometimes or often felt unhappy, sad or depressed.  The study’s key finding was that children who ate fast food and drank soft drinks were more likely to be overweight, but they were also less likely to be unhappy. The authors’ analysis also highlighted a number of factors influencing children’s body weight, eating patterns and happiness.  For example, mothers’ consumption of fast food and soft drinks predicted her child’s eating habits.  Those children who ate fast food were more likely to also consume soft drinks.  Children from lower income households were more likely to have unhealthy dietary habits and be overweight or obese.

What is going on with this result? Is the relationship real? If so, in which direction does the arrow of causality flow?

Keep in mind this result is from Taiwan. Would it hold in Japan or Scotland or Greece?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 April 14 11:08 PM  Brain Happiness

Dane Brammage said at April 16, 2009 2:41 PM:

Maybe it's the salt

Uncertain said at April 16, 2009 3:28 PM:

Speculation: The happier kids may be happier because their parents are stricter on them in general, not only re their diet but also re everything else. But will the kids' happiness therefore prove temporary as the consequences of lower self-control manifest themselves throughout the rest of the kids' lives?

TA said at April 17, 2009 11:07 PM:

Fast food included French fries, pizza and hamburgers; soft drinks included soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages.

A western diet, including western fast food, is a proxy for wealth and sophistication. The chubby tots raised on a diet of McDonald's and Pizza Hut come from upwardly mobile and affluent families. They are happier because their families have wealth and means, not because a Big Mac promotes happiness.

freddy said at April 19, 2009 3:04 PM:

Funny, TA, because when we see reports of obesity among poor people, they usually say that it is because their diet consists mostly of the cheaper western fast food.

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