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Early Childhood Diet Could Affect IQ

February 8, 2011

In a new study, published Tuesday in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, researchers have discovered a link between early childhood diet and IQ.

According to the authors, a diet that is high in fat, sugar, and processed food can hamper the development of younger kids in terms of intelligence, while consumption of products filled with vitamins and nutrients may have the opposite effect.

Their findings were based on the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), which tracks the long term health and wellbeing of approximately 14,000 youngsters born in 1991 and 1992, and IQ measurements were verified using the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children.

The eating habits of just under 4,000 children participating in the ALSPAC were analyzed in the study, with the researchers reviewing questionnaires completed by parents when their kids were 3, 4, 7, and 8.5 years old. The IQ was measured when they children reached the age of 8.5.

According to a press release from the British Medical Journal (BMJ), publishers of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, the authors identified three different dietary patterns amongst the kids: processed (high fat and sugar intake), traditional (high in meat and vegetable intake), and health conscious (high in fruit, vegetable, rice, pasta, and salad intake).

“The results showed that after taking account of potentially influential factors, a predominantly processed food diet 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,” the BMJ press release said. “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,” it continued. “The authors say that these findings, although modest, are in line with previous ALSPAC research showing an association between early childhood diet and later behavior and school performance.”

They study authors wrote that the brain growth rate is fastest during the first three years of an individual’s life, and that previous research has illustrated that cranium growth at this time is linked to intellectual ability. Their findings, they said, suggest that “any cognitive/behavioral effects relating to eating habits in early childhood may well persist into later childhood, despite any subsequent changes (including improvements) to dietary intake.”

“It is possible that good nutrition during this period may encourage optimal brain growth,” they said, emphasizing that additional research will be necessary to discover the extent to which early dietary intake and later-life intelligence are linked.

Authors credited with the completion of the paper include Kate Northstone, Carol Joinson, and Pauline Emmett of the University of Bristol School of Social and Community Medicine; Andy Ness of the Bristol University Department of Oral and Dental Science, and Tomas Paul of the University of Toronto Rotman Research Institute and the McGill University Montreal Neurological Institute.

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