We knew the effects of junk food on our waistlines, but according to new research, it can affect our IQ as well. The long-term study, recently published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, followed 14,000 British children born in 1991 and 1992, and checked in with them at three, four, seven and eight-and-a-half years old. The conclusion: children who eat junk food diets may have a slightly lower IQ when they are older.
During the study, parents provided answers to questionnaires concerning the children’s food and beverage consumption. Children fell into one of three categories based on their dietary habits. The “processed” diet was high in sugar and fats; the “traditional” diet included meat and potatoes; and the “health-conscious” diet centered around vegetables, fruits, pasta and rice. When the children were eight-and-a-half, IQ measurements were taken.
At the end of the study, there was complete date for 4,000 of the children. Those that ate more processed diets had an average IQ of 101, while those with the more health-conscious diets averaged 106. The difference was recognized by the researchers as small, but not insignificant. “But it does make them less able to cope with education, less able to cope with some of the things in life,” said Pauline Emmett of the School of Social and Community Medicine at the University of Bristol. (Source: Yahoo!News)
The researchers accounted for other factors that may have influenced their findings, such as socioeconomic class, maternal education, housing types, and life events. They theorized that eating junk food starting at age three or before could have an impact because that is when the brain is growing fastest. Diet quality at four and seven did not impact IQs measured at age eight-and-a-half.
The director of research at the UK’s School Food Trust said, “Given that around 23 percent of children start school either overweight or obese, it’s absolutely clear that healthy choices as part of their early development will stand children in good stead — not only for keeping a healthy weight as they grow up, but, as this evidence suggests, improving their ability to do well at school.” (Source: Newscientist.com)
Physical activity is also good for brain development in children. “The primary motor circuits that connect to the cerebellum, which controls posture and coordination, forge during the first two years. It is during this period that the child begins to gain considerable experience in the world as he or she ‘moves’ about in the environment. Once again it is suggested that physical activity is a strong determinant in the early development of the brain, not just motor control.” (Source: earlychildhoodnews.com)
One thing seems clear: a diet that incorporates nutritious, unprocessed foods does a body — and mind — good.