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: Epidemiologic study links low maternal education to intellectual disabilities in offspring

Related Stories

Life on a dollar a day

April 26, 2011

Imagine, for a moment, that you must live on 99 cents per day. How would you manage it? For roughly 850 million people around the globe, this is not a hypothetical question; those people really have daily purchasing power ...

Researchers find a keystone nutrient recycler in streams

June 28, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Researchers from the University of Georgia Odum School of Ecology have found that certain neotropical stream ecosystems rely almost entirely on a single fish species known as the banded tetra for the critical ...

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. ...

Machine Translates Thoughts into Speech in Real Time

December 21, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- By implanting an electrode into the brain of a person with locked-in syndrome, scientists have demonstrated how to wirelessly transmit neural signals to a speech synthesizer. The "thought-to-speech" process ...


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.