Processed food diet in early childhood may lower subsequent IQ

Feb 07, 2011

A diet, high in fats, sugars, and processed foods in early childhood may lower IQ, while a diet packed full of vitamins and nutrients may do the opposite, suggests research published online in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

The authors base their findings on participants in the Avon of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), which is tracking the long term health and wellbeing of around 14,000 children born in 1991 and 1992.

Parents completed questionnaires, detailing the types and frequency of the food and drink their children consumed when they were 3, 4, 7 and 8.5 years old.

Three were identified: "processed" high in fats and sugar intake; "traditional" high in meat and ; and "health conscious" high in salad, fruit and vegetables, rice and pasta. Scores were calculated for each pattern for each child.

IQ was measured using a validated test (the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children) when they were 8.5 years old. In all, complete data were available for just under 4,000 children.

The results showed that after taking account of potentially influential factors, a predominantly processed food at the age of 3 was associated with a lower IQ at the age of 8.5, irrespective of whether the diet improved after that age. Every 1 point increase in dietary pattern score was associated with a 1.67 fall in IQ.

On the other hand, a healthy diet was associated with a higher IQ at the age of 8.5, with every 1 point increase in dietary pattern linked to a 1.2 increase in IQ. Dietary patterns between the ages of 4 and 7 had no impact on IQ.

The authors say that these findings, although modest, are in line with previous ALSPAC research showing an association between diet and later behaviour and school performance.

"This suggests that any cognitive/behavioural effects relating to eating habits in early childhood may well persist into later childhood, despite any subsequent changes (including improvements) to dietary intake," they say.

The brain grows at its fastest rate during the first three years of life, say the authors, by way of a possible explanation for the findings, adding that other research has indicated that head growth at this time is linked to intellectual ability.

"It is possible that good nutrition during this period may encourage optimal brain growth," they suggest, advocating further research to determine the extent of the effect early diet has on intelligence.

Explore further: The hunt for botanicals

Related Stories

Western diet link to ADHD

Jul 29, 2010

A new study from Perth's Telethon Institute for Child Health Research shows an association between ADHD and a 'Western-style' diet in adolescents.

The traditional Mediterranean diet protects against diabetes

May 30, 2008

The traditional Mediterranean diet provides substantial protection against type 2 diabetes, according to a study published on bmj.com today. The Mediterreanean diet is rich in olive oil, grains, fruits, nuts, vegetables, ...

Pesticide exposure linked to lower IQ

Mar 24, 2006

A study of North Dakota farm children found those children exposed to pesticides tested an average of 5 points lower on standard IQ tests.

Recommended for you

The hunt for botanicals

2 hours ago

Herbal medicine can be a double-edged sword and should be more rigorously investigated for both its beneficial and harmful effects, say researchers writing in a special supplement of Science.

Mozambique decriminalises abortion to stem maternal deaths

3 hours ago

Mozambique has passed a law permitting women to terminate unwanted pregnancies under specified conditions without risking punishment, a move hailed by activists in a country where clandestine abortions account for a large ...

Infertility, surrogacy in India

3 hours ago

Infertility is a growing problem worldwide. A World Health Organization report estimates that 60-to-80 million couples worldwide currently suffer from infertility.

Tooth loss linked to slowing mind and body

16 hours ago

The memory and walking speeds of adults who have lost all of their teeth decline more rapidly than in those who still have some of their own teeth, finds new UCL research.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Beard
not rated yet Feb 08, 2011
If your mom:

1) Ate well and avoided smoking/alcohol during pregnancy
2) Breastfed you
3) Read to you
4) Fed you a healthy diet when you were growing

Give her a goddamn phonecall and tell her you love her, because without those advantages you might be at the bar getting in drunken fights right now instead of reading a science website.

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.