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You are what you eat: childhood nutrition has a longstanding effect on IQ

Published: 03 October 2012 12:00


Children given more 'fast food' meals will grow up to have a lower IQ than those regularly given freshly-cooked meals, according to a study undertaken by an academic at Goldsmiths, University of London.

Research by Dr Sophie von Stumm (pictured), from the Department of Psychology, concluded that childhood nutrition has longstanding effects on IQ, even after previous intelligence and socio-economic status (SES) are taken into account.

The study examined whether the type of children's daily main meal - comparing fast food with 'slow', freshly-cooked food - impacted on children' cognitive ability and growth, based on a sample of 4,000 Scottish children aged three to five years old.

Dr von Stumm commented: "It's common sense that the type of food we eat will affect brain development, but previous research has only looked at the effects of specific food groups on children's IQ rather than at generic types of meals. This research will go some way to providing hard evidence to support the various high-profile campaigns aimed at reducing the amount of fast food consumed by children in the UK."

The results indicated that food partly mediated the effects of SES on children's intellectual development. Parents of higher socio-economic status (SES) reported to give their children meals prepared with fresh ingredients more often, which positively affected their IQ. In other words, one of the reasons why higher SES is positively associated with IQ gains was that it increased the probability of providing a healthier diet for children. Conversely, lower SES was linked to a higher frequency of children having fast food, which led to lower intelligence.

Dr von Stumm continued: "The findings highlight that differences in children's meals are also a social problem. Mothers and fathers from less privileged backgrounds often have less time to prepare a freshly cooked meal from scratch for their children. These children score lower on intelligence tests and often struggle in school. Schools in less privileged areas must do even more to balance children's diet, so that they can achieve their cognitive potential.

"It goes to show that the freshness and quality of food matters more than just being full, in particular when children are young and developing."

Notes to Editors
Contact the Press Office to arrange an interview with Dr von Stumm

To read the full research paper, visit

To find out more about the Department of Psychology, visit

For further information
Peter Austin
Press & PR Manager
t: +44 (0)20 7919 7909
f: +44 (0)20 7919 7975

Content last modified: 16 Aug 2010

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