Nutrition in early life associated with intellectual function as adult

Nutrition in early life associated with intellectual function as adult

Improved nutrition in early childhood may be linked to higher scores on intellectual tests, and this association is irrespective of the number of years of school attended, according to a report released on July 7, 2008 in Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, a JAMA/Archives journal.

The authors initially introduce the link between schooling and the productive development of a person: "Schooling is a key component of the development of literacy, reading comprehension and cognitive functioning, and thus of human capital." Because previous research has indicated a link between poor nutrition early in life and poor performance as an adult on cognitive tests, which could test abilities in thinking, learning, and memory. According to the authors, "Therefore, both nutrition and early-childhood intellectual enrichment are likely to be important determinants of intellectual functioning in adulthood."

To test the correlation between these two factors, a team led by Aryeh D. Stein, M.P.H., Ph.D., of the Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University, Atlanta, and colleagues studied data collected from Guatemalan children who were part of a trial testing nutritional supplementation with atole between the years 1969 and 1977. In total, 1,448 surviving individuals with an average age of 32 were administered intellectual tests and took part in individual interviews between 2002 and 2004.

The individuals who were exposed to atole between birth and 24 months generally scored higher on reading comprehension and cognitive functioning tests in adulthood than those exposed at other ages or not at all. Once controlled for other factors, such as number of years of schooling, that could be associated intellectual functioning, this association remained statistically significant.

Additionally, the authors found that there was some association between years of schooling and the nutritional supplements: "Exposure to atole for most of the first three years of life was associated with an increase of 0.4 years in attained schooling, with the association being stronger for females (1.2 years of schooling)." This could mean that the additional schooling is also an intermediate for additional cognitive development. "Thus, schooling might be in the causal pathway between early childhood nutrition and adult intellectual functioning."

They conclude, indicating that intervention techniques might capitalize on this association: "Our data, which suggest an effect of exposure to an enhanced nutritional intervention in early life that is independent of any effect of schooling, provide additional evidence in support of intervention strategies that link early investments in children to continued investments in early-life nutrition and in schooling."

Nutritional Supplementation in Early Childhood, Schooling, and Intellectual Functioning in Adulthood

Aryeh D. Stein, MPH, PhD; Meng Wang, MS; Ann DiGirolamo, PhD; Ruben Grajeda, MD; Usha Ramakrishnan, PhD; Manuel Ramirez-Zea, MD, PhD; Kathryn Yount, PhD; Reynaldo Martorell, PhD

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2008;162[7]:612-618.

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