October 19, 2021

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

obese-kidsAn article was published online Feb. 7 in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health that highlights a correlation between the diets of children in their first three years and their IQ at the age of 8.

It’s news that most of us are interested in since the welfare of children is on everyone’s mind – it is also a refreshing study since it does not simply state the obvious that eating fatty foods will make you fat. In contrast, this piece of news seems simply to be another stone thrown against deteriorating dietry values and another premonition of doom – it won’t just get you, but it will get your children too.

The study is laudable but there are many problems. Nearly 4 000 children aged 8 were give IQ tests and their parents were questioned as to what their diets had been specifically at the ages of 3, 4 and 7. For once it is the IQ tests, with all their inconsistency and inaccuracy, that are the least of the researchers problems. In this study they will also have had to deal with the shaky memory of parents expected to fill in diet charts dating up to five years back, not to mention the possibility of answers being tweaked by those who don’t want to appear irresponsible.

Because fatty foods are bad for us – we are told this everyday. Cram one too many burgers into your mouth and you will become obese and constipated. But stupid? Really? Surely there are many more factors that go into making our intelligence than merely the food we eat – at least, I’d like to think so.

The researchers put forward a good argument about the nutrition required when the brain is growing – it is interesting, they pointed out, that diet is no longer a factor once a child has passed the age of 3 but they do not go on to try and explain this. Perhaps they think that their results speak for themselves but there are plenty of other factors to take into account: the inheritance of an intelligence that deems a sugar-rich diet suitable for an infant for example. A domestic environment where parents do not have time to cooks for their kids suggests that these children may not be receiving other cognitive stimuli such as bed-time stories and educational toys. Afterall, a child is not simply what it eats but is the sum of his/her interactions with other people and the amount of information that they absorb on a daily basis.

So the media threatens that people need to start cooking again, if not for the sake of their ever-growing arse then for the intelligence of their children. But the sad fact remains that fatty, high energy foods are cheaper and ready-meals are quicker to prepare. What we need is a dramatic change in the pricing of food in supermarkets – that and more videos of a misunderstood Jamie Oliver crying in the United States.

Reference: Kate Northstone, Ph.D., research fellow, department of social medicine, University of Bristol, Bristol, England; Samantha Heller, M.S., R.D., dietitian, nutritionist, exercise physiologist, Fairfield, Conn.; Feb. 7, 2011, Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health


By Eleanor Reynolds