Babies and toddlers fed a healthy diet may have slightly higher IQs by the time they are 8 years old than children fed less healthy foods at a young age, according to a new study.
Researchers from the University of Adelaide, in Australia, found an early diet rich in junk foods could cost children up to two IQ points.
"Diet supplies the nutrients needed for the development of brain tissues in the first two years of life, and the aim of this study was to look at what impact diet would have on children's IQs," said the study's leader, Lisa Smithers, a public health researcher at the University of Adelaide, in a university news release.
"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," said Smithers. "It is important that we consider the longer-term impact of the foods we feed our children."
For the study, recently published online in the European Journal of Epidemiology, the researchers looked at the dietary habits of more than 7,000 children. The children's diets were assessed when they were 6 months, 15 months and 2 years old. The analysis included the home-cooked foods they ate along with ready-made baby foods, breast-feeding and junk foods.
"We found that children who were breast-fed at 6 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 8," Smithers noted. "Those children who had a diet regularly involving biscuits, chocolate, sweets, soft drinks and chips in the first two years of life had IQs up to two points lower by age 8.
The researchers pointed out that pre-packed baby foods had some negative impact on the children's IQ when given at 6 months of age, but this ready-made food had some benefits on IQ when given to the children when they were 2 years old.
The study concluded healthy foods are critical for children during their formative years.
However, while the study found an association between healthy eating and higher IQ, it did not show a cause-and-effect relationship. Other factors may have influenced the IQ scores as well.