Do Children Become What They Eat?

Diet and nutrition in babies and toddlers appears linked to later IQ scores

(RxWiki News) Looking forward to another fight with your toddler over what they'll eat for dinner? Take heart - the fight is worth it for your child’s smarts down the line.

A recent study of over 7,000 children has found that their dietary patterns as infants and toddlers had a small but measurable effect on their IQ when they were school-age.

"Ask your pediatrician for help planning healthy meals."

The study, led by Lisa G. Smithers, PhD, a public health researcher at the University of Adelaide in Australia, investigated children's eating habits at age 6 months, 15 months and 2 years.

The study involved 7,097 children who were enrolled from birth. The researchers gathered data on the children's diets using questionnaires from the parents.

The children were then given an IQ test when they were 8. IQ is a measure of a person's intelligence.

The researchers categorized the infants' diets into different groups and compared the IQ of the children with the scores the children had within each diet group.

They found that children who had higher scores in the food group called "discretionary," which include a higher intake of cookies, chocolate, sweets, soda and chips, had a 1 to 2 point lower IQ. This was true for any age that the child ate this kind of food.

The babies who were exclusively breastfed at 6 months had a 1 to 2 point higher average IQ.

A 1 to 2 point higher IQ was also seen among the children who had higher scores in the "homemade contemporary" food group when they were 15 months old and 2 years old. This category was characterized by herbs, legumes, cheese, raw fruit and vegetables.

Children who ate a "homemade traditional" diet (meat, cooked vegetables, desserts) at 6 months old also tended to have higher IQ scores, but the link did not exist for 15-month-olds and 2-year-olds in this diet group.

In some cases, the findings appeared to be oddly contradictory. For example, children who ate more "ready-prepared baby foods" at 6 months and 15 months tended to have slightly lower IQ scores, but children who ate "ready-to-eat foods" at 2 years old tended to have slightly higher scores.

"This may be because the ready-to-eat foods pattern is characterized by nutrient-rich foods including bread, breakfast cereal, yogurt and milk pudding," the researchers wrote.

The findings in this study also match up with past studies that have found higher IQ scores associated with breastfeeding.

"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," Dr Smithers said. "It is important that we consider the longer-term impact of the foods we feed our children."

The study's findings highlight the importance of developing healthy patterns of nutrition for children from day one.

"The present study provides some of the strongest evidence to date that dietary patterns from 6 to 24 months have a small but robust effect on IQ at 8 years of age, after taking into account a range of potential confounding factors," the authors wrote.

The study was published July 19 in the European Journal of Epidemiology. The research was funded by the U.K. Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust and the University of Bristol. Two of the authors declared they have received financial support from commercial infant food manufacturers, and the other authors declared no potential conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
August 14, 2012