There are more compelling reasons to avoid junk food than a two-point drop in IQ, but a new study from the University of Adelaide in South Australia does show the impact of food on growing minds as well as bodies.
The study, led by Dr. Lisa Smithers, compared dietary patterns of more than 7000 children. Their diets were recorded at six months, 15 months and two years. When they reached the age of eight their IQ’s were tested.
Dr. Smithers says:
We 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.
Those children who had a diet regularly involving biscuits, chocolate, lollies, 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.
Earlier studies have already shown an alarming increase in diet-related diseases in children. For example, Type 2 diabetes, traditionally referred to as “adult-onset” diabetes, is being diagnosed in children as young as two. Heart disease and certain cancers are also increasing in younger populations.
The new study doesn’t make excessive claims, and it is only one study. The results show minor effects and need to be verified by further research. However, they are part of a larger picture that should guide our thinking about food. While a couple of IQ points are unlikely to change a child’s future, when added to diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, they form a pattern that should influence what we feed children. As Dr. Smithers says:
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,” Dr Smithers says.
It is important that we consider the longer-term impact of the foods we feed our children
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