In fact, researchers found that kids who were fed a diet high in fat and sugar scored as much as five IQ points lower than kids who ate a health-conscious diet high in fruits and vegetables.
To investigate, researchers examined data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, which tracked the long-term health and well being of children born in 1991 and 1992. Parents completed questionnaires detailing the types and frequency of the food and drink their children consumed at the age of three, four, seven and eight. The children's IQ scores were measured when they were eight years old.
Of the nearly 4000 children participating in the study, researchers divided them into three groups depending on dietary patterns; "processed" diet high in fats and sugar intake, "traditional" diet high in meat and vegetable intake and "health conscious" diet high in salad, fruit and vegetables, rice and pasta.
After the researchers adjusted their findings for several factors, they found that a highly processed food diet at the age of three was linked with a lower IQ at the age of eight. What's more, researcher also found that a health conscious diet was associated with a higher IQ at the age of eight.
They also found that it didn't matter if the children's diets improved or worsened after the age of three. In fact, dietary patterns between the ages of 4 and 7 had no impact on IQ.
While the difference in IQ was modest, researchers say their findings support previous studies that have linked early childhood diet and school performance later in life. They also note that the brain grows at its fastest rate during the first three years of life and that other studies have found that head growth at this time may be linked to intellectual ability.
The study appeared in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
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