Early-life nutrition may be associated with adult intellectual functioning

July 7, 2008

Adults who had improved nutrition in early childhood may score better on intellectual tests, regardless of the number of years they attended school, according to a report in the July issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

"Schooling is a key component of the development of literacy, reading comprehension and cognitive functioning, and thus of human capital," the authors write as background information in the article. Research also suggests that poor nutrition in early life is associated with poor performance on cognitive (thinking, learning and memory) tests in adulthood. "Therefore, both nutrition and early-childhood intellectual enrichment are likely to be important determinants of intellectual functioning in adulthood."

Between 1969 and 1977, Guatemalan children in four villages participated in a trial of nutritional supplementation. Through the trial, some were exposed to atole—a protein-rich enhanced nutritional supplement—while others were exposed to fresco, a sugar-sweetened beverage. Aryeh D. Stein, M.P.H., Ph.D., of the Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University, Atlanta, and colleagues analyzed data from intellectual testing and interviews conducted between 2002 and 2004, when 1,448 surviving participants (68.4 percent) were an average of 32 years old.

Individuals exposed to atole between birth and age 24 months scored higher on intellectual tests of reading comprehension and cognitive functioning in adulthood than those not exposed to atole or who were exposed to it at other ages. This association remained significant when the researchers controlled for other factors associated with intellectual functioning, including years of schooling.

"Nutrition in early life is associated with markers of child development in this population, and exposure to atole for most of the first three years of life was associated with an increase of 0.4 years in attained schooling, with the association being stronger for females (1.2 years of schooling)," the authors write. "Thus, schooling might be in the causal pathway between early childhood nutrition and adult intellectual functioning."

"Our data, which suggest an effect of exposure to an enhanced nutritional intervention in early life that is independent of any effect of schooling, provide additional evidence in support of intervention strategies that link early investments in children to continued investments in early-life nutrition and in schooling," they conclude.

Source: JAMA and Archives Journals

Explore further: Why important innovations stall; understanding obstacles to change is key to future

Related Stories

Studies examine fetal alcohol syndrome in South Africa

August 28, 2013

Two recently published studies report prevalence data about fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) in South Africa and find that negative consequences of prenatal exposure to alcohol may be lessened if a child is provided ...

Recommended for you

How the finch changes its tune

August 3, 2015

Like top musicians, songbirds train from a young age to weed out errors and trim variability from their songs, ultimately becoming consistent and reliable performers. But as with human musicians, even the best are not machines. ...

Cow embryos reveal new type of chromosome chimera

May 27, 2016

I've often wondered what happens between the time an egg is fertilized and the time the ball of cells that it becomes nestles into the uterine lining. It's a period that we know very little about, a black box of developmental ...

Shaving time to test antidotes for nerve agents

February 29, 2016

Imagine you wanted to know how much energy it took to bike up a mountain, but couldn't finish the ride to the peak yourself. So, to get the total energy required, you and a team of friends strap energy meters to your bikes ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.