Eating more fruits and less sugar — and avoiding diet soda during pregnancy — could have a beneficial effect on a child’s cognitive functioning, according to a new study.
Published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, the study found that poorer childhood cognition occurred, particularly in memory and learning, when pregnant women or their children consumed greater quantities of sugar.
Substituting diet soda for sugar-sweetened versions during pregnancy also appeared to have negative effects, according to the study’s findings.
However, children’s fruit consumption had beneficial effects and was associated with higher cognitive scores, researchers said.
For the study, investigators collected dietary assessment data for more than 1,000 pregnant women from 1999 to 2002 who participated in Project Viva. Their children’s diets were assessed in early childhood.
hild cognition was assessed in early- and mid-childhood, at approximately age 3 and 7, researchers reported.
Key findings from the study include:
- maternal sugar consumption, especially from sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), was associated with poorer childhood cognition, including non-verbal abilities to solve novel problems and poorer verbal memory;
- maternal SSB consumption was associated with poorer global intelligence associated with both verbal knowledge and non-verbal skills;
- maternal diet soda consumption was associated with poorer fine motor, visual spatial, and visual motor abilities in early childhood and poorer verbal abilities in mid-childhood;
- childhood SSB consumption was associated with poorer verbal intelligence at mid-childhood;
- child consumption of both fructose and fruit in early childhood was associated with higher cognitive scores in several areas and greater receptive vocabulary;
- fruit was additionally associated with greater visual motor abilities in early childhood and verbal intelligence in mid-childhood;
- Fruit juice intake was not associated with improved cognition, which may suggest the benefits are from other aspects of fruits, such as phytochemicals, and not fructose itself.
“This study provides evidence that there should be no further delays in implementing the new Nutrition Facts label,” said lead investigator Juliana F.W. Cohen, Sc.D., School of Health Sciences at Merrimack College and the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “The new label will provide information on added sugars so that pregnant women and parents can make informed choices regarding added sugars and more easily limit their intake.
“This study also provides additional support for keeping federal nutrition programs strong, such as Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and the National School Lunch Program, because their promotion of diets higher in fruits and lower in added sugars may be associated with improved childhood cognition,” she continued.