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Processed food in early childhood lowers intellect

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Feeding children processed, sugar laden, high fat foods before age 3 could mean they won't end up as smart as their peers who eat healthy foods.

The findings, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health suggest parents should ensure children eat nutrient packed foods beginning early in life. In the study, researchers found lower intellect among children at age 8.5 that was linked to eating processed foods high in fat and sugar at age three.

The findings come from available data of 4,000 children who were part of the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), designed to track health and wellness of around 14,000 children born between 1991 and 1992.

Researchers analyzed IQ in children, separating diet types into three groups: processed; high in fat and sugar intake; high in meat and vegetable intake; and those that were high in salad, fruit and vegetables, rice and pasta.

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The final analysis showed children who ate processed foods at age 3 had lower IQ by age 8.5. When the children were age 4 and 7 a nutritious diet had no positive impact on intellect, showing the importance of good nutrition early in life. IQ was measured using the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children

"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," write the authors. They add, "It is possible that good nutrition during this period may encourage optimal brain growth." They suggest more research about nutrition early in life and the effect healthy foods have on childhood intellect.

A 2009 study from the University of Gothenburg showed teens who ate fish twice a week scored higher on cognitive tests than teenagers don't consume fish with beneficial omega 3 fatty acids.

For every 1 point increase in a healthy diet, the study found a 1.2 point increase in IQ. The finding suggests nutrient rich foods in the first 3 years of life are important for intellectual development, during a time of rapid brain development. Children given processed foods scored lower on IQ tests that was linked to diet, and found even after taking into consideration other influencing factors.

J Epidemiol Community Health doi:10.1136/jech.2010.111955
"Are dietary patterns in childhood associated with IQ at 8 years of age? A population-based cohort study"