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Processed food linked to lower kids' IQs
February 7th, 2011
06:35 PM ET

Processed food linked to lower kids' IQs

If a 3-year-old eats too much processed food, it might lower his or her  IQ by the age of 8, a new study suggests. Researchers in Britain tracked what 14,000 children ate and drank at the ages of 3, 4, 7, and 8.5 years of age, by asking parents to complete questionnaires detailing their child's diet.

The study authors suggest their study found some evidence that when 3-year-old children eat a diet rich in foods that are high in fat, high in sugar and are processed, their IQ may find a small decrease in their IQ five years later.   On the flip side, this new study suggests eating a healthy, nutrient rich diet may be associated with a small increase in IQ.

The study authors note that in this paper "we report weak but novel associations between dietary patterns in early childhood...with general intelligence assessed at 8.5 years of age." Their research also suggests that what a child eats in the first three years of life is associated with a modest decrease in intelligence, but what a child ate at age 4 and 7 did not.

Dr. Sandra Hassink, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Obesity Leadership Workgroup, agrees with the study authors that "these are weak and novel associations,"
which means it doesn't actually prove that a diet of processed food causes a lower IQ. Hassink says there are "so many variables in a child's life," which makes it very difficult to tease out what exactly is leading to a drop in IQ assessments. She says that for a pediatrician, what happens early in a child's development is very important and that this study is a reminder that all the environmental influences on early childhood need further study.

Until more research is available, Hassink says, the AAP recommends giving your child a healthy diet; reading to your child, having family routines and structure and lots of physical activity all contribute to the healthy development of children.

The study appeared Monday online in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.


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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.