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Kids' IQ Takes a Hit With Bad Diet
You are what you eat is particularly true for kids, according to English researchers who report that lots of sugar and processes foods in pre-K may lower IQ scores while healthy foods boost brain power.
By Todd Neale, MedPage Today
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Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2011- Children who eat a diet high in fat, sugar, and processed foods at age 3 appear to have slight decreases in IQ later in childhood, a longitudinal study from England found.
The ongoing cohort study, involving almost 4,000 children, found that a 1-standard deviation increase in the "processed" dietary pattern score was associated with a 1.67-point decrease in IQ at age 9 years, according to Dr. Kate Northstone, of the University of Bristol, and colleagues.
On the other hand, children eating a "health-conscious" diet rich in salad, rice, pasta, fish, fruits, and vegetables around the time of intelligence testing was associated with a 1.20-point increase in IQ, Northstone and co-authors reported online in theJournal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
The researchers speculated that the quality of a child's diet at age 3 might be associated with intelligence later on because the brain is growing at its fastest rate during the first three years of life.
"Studies have shown that head growth during this time is associated with cognitive outcome, and it is possible that good nutrition during this early period may encourage optimal brain growth," they wrote.
But "further research is required to help determine the true effects of early diet on intelligence," the investigators added.
Northstone and her colleagues examined data on 3,966 children from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), an ongoing longitudinal cohort study of families living in Southwest England.
Parents in the study reported their child's eating habits using a food frequency questionnaire at ages 3, 4, 7, and 8.5 years. The researchers extracted dietary patterns based on the primary components of the children's diets.
They observed three consistent dietary patterns at each time point:
- Processed: Characterized by high fat and sugar content and by consumption of processed and convenience foods
- Traditional: Characterized by consumption of meat, poultry, potatoes, and vegetables
- Health-conscious: Characterized by consumption of salad, rice, pasta, fish, fruits, and vegetables
For age 3 only, the researchers identified a "snack" pattern characterized by eating finger foods like fruit, biscuits, bread, and cakes.
Intelligence was measured at an average age of 8.5 years using the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children; the average score was 104.
With minimal adjustment for gender, age at testing, test administrator, and dietary pattern scores at that time point, all of the dietary patterns were associated either positively or negatively with intelligence at age 8.5 at most time points, with the exception of the "traditional" pattern at ages 4 and 7.
Further adjustment for breastfeeding duration, energy intake, maternal education, maternal social class, maternal age, housing tenure, life events, quality of parenting, and all other dietary pattern scores, however, eliminated most of the associations.
The only remaining significant associations between IQ and dietary pattern were a negative relationship with the "processed" pattern at age 3, a positive relationship with the "health-conscious" pattern at age 8.5, and a positive relationship with the "snack" pattern at age 3.
There was no evidence of an association between dietary pattern between the ages of 3 and 8.5 and IQ at age 8.5.
Northstone and co-authors acknowledged some limitations to their study, including possible residual confounding, use of a shortened form of the IQ test, and the inability to adjust for maternal intelligence.
In addition, they wrote, the inclusion of children with learning disabilities — who are at risk for feeding and nutritional problems — could have influenced the results.
The Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) receives core support from the U.K. Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust, and the University of Bristol.
The authors reported that they had no conflicts of interest.
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