Posted by Neharika Sabharwal on February 09, 2011

According to researchers, kids who gorge on chips, fries, cookies, and cake before the age of three have slightly lower IQs five years later compared to those who consume healthy and wholesome food.

Samantha Heller, a dietitian, nutritionist and exercise physiologist in Fairfield, Conn., stated, “Most of us do not realize that the foods we eat have direct consequences on brain growth, function and performance."

She added, "Fast and junk food seem like an easy and affordable option for busy parents, but defaulting to high-fat, high-sugar, high-calorie foods is putting their children's health and future at risk.”

Link between kids eating habits and IQ assessed
In a bid to examine whether nutritious food in the early years can increase IQ of kids at a later stage, the researchers conducted a study.

They analyzed the data from The Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children born in 1991 and 1992. The parents were questioned about the eating habits of their kids at age 3, 4, 7, and 8.5 years.

Experts noticed the emergence of three dietary patterns. The first comprised a diet high in processed fats, sugar and convenience foods, the second a traditional diet of meat, potatoes and vegetables while third was a health-conscious diet with lots of salad, fruit, vegetables, pasta, and rice.

The IQ levels of the participants were measured using the standard Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children when they were 8.5 years old.

Outcome of the study
It was noticed that kids who consumed a diet high in processed foods at age three exhibited a lower IQ at 8.5 years than those who had more nutritious food.

It was also observed that for every one point increase in processed foods consumption the kids lost 1.67 points in IQ while a one point increase in healthy eating demonstrated a rise of 1.2 points on the IQ scale.

Even after taking into account other environmental factors that can impact IQ, such as parental education level, maternal diet in pregnancy, socioeconomic status and stressful life events, the link persisted.

Some other highlights
The key seemed to be the eating patterns at age three since the quality of diet measured at four and seven did not effect IQ level at eight years.

Researchers theorize that healthy diet may be vital in the early years because the brain grows at its fastest rate during the first three years of life.

Lead author of the study, Dr Kate Northstone at Bristol University stated, "A possible explanation for this is that the brain grows 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.”

She added, "Further research is required to help determine the true effects of early diet on intelligence."

The study appears in the 'Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health' published by the British Medical Association (BMA).

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