Healthy Diets Affect Kids’ IQ—New Research
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
The study (led by University of Adelaide Public Health researcher Dr. Lisa Smithers) looked at the link between the eating habits of children at six months, 15 months and two years, and their IQ at eight years of age.
Driving up IQ
"Diet supplies the nutrients needed for the development of brain tissues in the first two years of life, and the aim of this study was to look at what impact diet would have on children's IQs," said Smithers, who said they found that children who were breastfed at six months and had a healthy diet regularly including foods such as legumes, cheese, fruit and vegetables at 15 and 24 months, had an IQ up to two points higher by age eight.
The study of more than 7,000 children compared a range of dietary patterns, including traditional and contemporary home-prepared food, ready-prepared baby foods, breastfeeding, and 'discretionary' or junk foods.
"Those children who had a diet regularly involving biscuits, chocolate, sweets, soft drinks and chips in the first two years of life had IQs up to two points lower by age eight. "We also found some negative impact on IQ from ready-prepared baby foods given at six months, but some positive associations when given at 24 months," Smithers said.
Smithers says this study reinforces the need to provide children with healthy foods at a crucial, formative time in their lives. "While the differences in IQ are not huge, this study provides some of the strongest evidence to date that dietary patterns from six to 24 months have a small but significant effect on IQ at eight years of age," Smithers said.
Expert view from RI dietitian Maria R. Santini
How valid is this study?
Without having full access to the published paper, it is difficult to comment on the validity of the study as there are many factors to consider in regards to study design, bias, controls etc. For example, in the synopsis, it does not indicate the percentage of breast-fed versus formula-fed infants – was there a control group? Per the American Academy of Pediatrics, while a meta-analysis of studies concluded that there is a cognitive benefit conferred beyond the period of breastfeeding in term infants, this remains unresolved. Thus, are differences being observed that are actually related to breastfeeding vs. formula?
Is there any other research out there that links diet to IQ?
It stands to reason that when children are consuming a greater variety of nutrient dense foods, they are receiving a better complement of vitamins and minerals. One of those minerals is iron. Researcher Betsy Lozoff, M.D., and her colleagues have reviewed iron deficiency in infancy on function later in life. In Lozoff’s work, preschool children with iron deficiency were noted to have poorer intelligence quotient (IQ) scores, motor development, perceptual speed and visual matching compared to controls. It is difficult to single out any one nutrient as they all serve individual purposes and interact amongst each other. Many children consume adequate calories to support growth, however, they are not consuming nutrient dense foods that contain the appropriate vitamins/minerals to support optimal cognitive development.
What are the easiest ways to make sure young children eat right?
Offer a variety of nutrient dense foods using guidance from www.myplate.gov. There is a concept known as offering “anchor foods” – these are foods that provide the basic nutrients that children need. Examples are: milk/soy milk that offer calcium and Vitamin D; iron fortified cereals/grains; “super fruits or vegetables” such as sweet potatoes or berries; and protein foods such as eggs/meat/cheese/beans, etc. If a child is solely eating “biscuits, chocolate, sweets, soft drinks and chips in the first two years of life”, think about all of the vitamins and minerals their diets are devoid of: iron, calcium, vitamins A, C, D and fiber just to name a few. The lack of these nutrients has the potential to impact learning. Looking at “anchor foods” is a good tool to quickly evaluate a child’s overall diet.
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