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Relationship Between Sugar Sweetened Beverage Consumption and Academic Performance Among Elementary and Middle School Children


Background: Sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) consumption has markedly increased in the last three decades among U.S. children and adolescents aged 2-18 years. The health effects of SSBs have mostly been examined in the context of obesity, and other metabolic disorders but little is known about how SSBs affect cognitive function. Evidence from animal and human studies suggests that high-fructose corn syrup and sucrose, found in large quantities in SSBs, may have adverse effects on the hippocampus, the learning and memory center of the brain. Nutritional insults to the hippocampus impair cognitive function and may negatively affect children's academic performance (AP). Purpose: The objectives were to examine the association between SSB consumption and AP in school-aged children, and identify modifiable food-related family behaviors associated with high SSB consumption. Methods: Data were obtained from an evaluation of a district wide multi-component school-based intervention which followed 238 fourth and fifth grade students annually from 2006 to 2009. Repeated measures analysis using mixed-effects models was conducted to examine the association between SSB consumption and AP measured by Math and English test scores; race, gender, grade level, mother `s education, mother's employment, intervention level and physical activity were controlled for. Mediation analysis was conducted to determine if family meal behaviors, namely the frequency with which children assist in meal preparation and have dinner with their family, mediate the association between socio-demographic variables and SSB consumption. Results: SSB consumption was inversely associated with English z-score (p<0.05); for every 24-ounces of soda consumed per day, English z-score decreased by 0.19 standard deviation units (3-4% of the mean). African American children had dinner together with their family less frequently than White children (p<0.01) and that as frequency of eating family dinner increased, SSB consumption decreased (p<0.05 among African Americans). Furthermore, African-American children assisted with meal preparation significantly more frequently than White children (p<0.01) but assisting with meal preparation was not significantly related to SSB consumption. Conclusion: SSB consumption is inversely associated with English but not math test score. The association between sociodemographic characteristics and SSB consumption is partially mediated by family meal behaviors. Future studies should explore how SSB consumption may affect cognitive function throughout the life-course and provide a clearer understanding of the biological mechanisms by which SSB consumption may influence AP.

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