Healthy eating key to girls’ ability to learn

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Lower birth weight and poor childhood diet can lead to poor learning and behaviour in children, particularly girls, according to new research.

The study, published today in ‘Research in Developmental Disabilities’ by researchers from Monash University, the National Defence Medical Centre, Taiwan and the National Health Research Institute, Taiwan, found girls with lower birth weight experienced a greater inability to learn and weaker overall competence than girls of normal birth weight.

The  study linked the national birth registry to Taiwan’s Nutrition and  Health Survey to examine possible relationships between lower birth  weight, childhood diet and learning outcomes in Taiwanese children  between six and 13 years old.

Co-author Emeritus Professor Mark Wahlqvist from Monash University’s Asia Pacific Health and Nutrition Centre at the Monash Asia Institute, said the findings suggested girls’ cognitive and social development was susceptible to birth weight and quality of diet.

“We  found girls with a birth weight less than 2700g were more likely to  show an inability to learn, have relationship problems, were unhappy and  socially impaired,” Professor Wahlqvist said.

“It is not only  the diet during childhood, but also that of the mother and probably the  father, reflected in birth weight that may affect a child’s learning  ability.”

The researchers found that although there were major  differences in the results between girls with lower birth weight and  those with normal birth weight, there were no significant differences  among boys.

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“Fortunately, it seems possible that a nutritionally  deprived low birth weight girl is not irreversibly committed to  neurodevelopmental impairment if a quality diet is available after  birth,” Professor Wahlqvist said.

“The findings support the role  of good nutrition in deterring the long-term consequences of lower birth  weight in school children.”

A concern is that as girls usually  become the primary caretakers and educators in households, their  vulnerability increases the risk of continuing the cycle of food  insecurity, which closely affects maternal and child health.

“No  matter what the birth weight or gender of the child, it is important  mothers and their children eat nutritious meals,” Professor Wahlqvist  said.

Source: Monash University

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Date Created: July 17, 2012 Date Modified: April 1, 2013