Kids Who Eat Healthy Develop Better Reading Skills

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By Gillie Houston Posted September 15, 2016

Eating better during the earliest educational years could be linked to higher reading comprehension and test scores.

If you have kids, you're (hopefully!) already aware that healthy, unprocessed foods are essential to their physical well-being. Now, research suggests that a good diet is essential to mental performance as well. A new report from the University of Eastern Finland and University of Jyvaskyla suggests that eating better during the earliest educational years could be linked to higher reading comprehension and test scores.

The study, which was published in the European Journal of Nutrition, followed 161 children between the ages of 6-8 during their first, second, and third grade years. Each of the participants kept diaries of their food intake, which were used to analyze the healthfulness of each of their diets, while academic skills were monitored using standardized tests.

Researchers found that the kids who stuck more closely to the Finnish nutritional recommendations—a diet high in whole grains, unsaturated fats, vegetables, fruits and fish; and low in red meat, saturated fat, and sugary foods—consistently outperformed their peers when it came to reading tests. Those kids also exhibited the most improvement in reading skills between the first and third grades, regardless of the kids' body types or backgrounds. "The associations of diet quality with reading skills were independent of many confounding factors, such as socio-economic status, physical activity, body adiposity, and physical fitness," says Dr. Eero Haapala, a lead researcher at the universities.

Haapala and his team note that free of any other economic or physical factors, those who made poorer eating decisions tended to make slower progress in their reading comprehension. The researchers hope that this new data will encourage parents and schools to pay more attention to what foods are being provided for the children under their care. "Parents and schools have an important role in making healthy foods available to children," the study authors write. "Furthermore, governments and companies play a key role in promoting the availability and production of healthy foods."

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