Eating processed foods and household clutter are linked to reduced cognitive performance in young children

Eating processed foods and household clutter are linked to reduced cognitive performance in young children

Young children tend to have poorer cognitive skills when they eat a diet rich in processed foods and live in a chaotic home environment, according to new research published in the journal. Nutrients. The study examined executive function in children aged 18-24 months.

“I was interested in studying executive function in young children because of its rapid development in early childhood and its influence on various factors in a child’s life (e.g., their ability to regulate behaviors and emotions, pay attention, and use their working memory). explained study author Samantha Iwinski, a doctoral student at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

“Nutritional intake and factors in the home environment can affect children’s executive function. However, there is not a lot of research on children aged 18 to 24 months. During this time, caregivers may have a large window of plasticity to influence their child’s executive function development. We wanted to investigate whether household clutter could influence the relationship between dietary consumption and executive function.”

The study looked at data from 294 families participating in the STRONG Kids2 birth cohort study, in which researchers began collecting data on children’s eating habits, weight trajectories, family relationships and other factors when they were about 6 weeks old. Parents completed a questionnaire about their child that assessed domains of executive function such as inhibition, attention/task shifting, emotional control, working memory, and planning/organization.

The child’s dietary intake was assessed using the Food Frequency Questionnaire. Caregivers also completed a measure of home chaos, known as the Confusion, Hubbub, and Order Scale, which assessed whether the child’s home environment was usually quiet and orderly or prone to noise, crowding, and disorganization.

The researchers found that greater household chaos was associated with lower scores in all five domains of executive functioning. The authors of the study said that children “may not understand the signals around them when the environment is noisy or disorganized, and the lack of routine and regularity can affect their attention and emotional regulation.”

In addition, higher snack and processed food intake was associated with lower shifting and emotional control abilities, as well as lower working memory and planning and organizing abilities in children. In other words, children who consumed more snacks and processed foods showed decreased cognitive performance in many domains compared to children who consumed less of these foods.

“These findings support the idea that the nature of the home environment, especially home chaos, can influence young children’s developing executive function abilities,” Iwinski told PsyPost. “Preventions that focus on activities and support for parents to establish healthy routines and reduce their children’s intake of unhealthy foods may help mitigate executive function problems. The data suggest that children’s unhealthy diets may also be related to the home environment. These factors can affect a child and family on multiple levels and have implications for the development of children’s executive function abilities.”

To better understand how household chaos and nutrition affect executive function as children continue to develop, Iwinski and her co-authors are planning a further study with the same families and their children, who are now 5-6 years old. .

“Since children develop rapidly during childhood, we need to understand these concepts over time and how this may affect families differently,” Iwinski explained. “There is no one way to have routines and healthy eating, so it is essential to look at these associations across families and throughout their development. To try to answer the above question, we plan to do longitudinal analyzes with our birth cohort.”

The study, like all research, has some limitations. The families included in the study were predominantly white and economically stable, and it is unclear whether the findings can be generalized to other populations. “Future researchers need to include more diverse families and use a variety of methods,” Iwinski said.

The study, “The Impact of Home Chaos and Dietary Intake on Executive Functioning in Young Children,” was authored by Samantha Iwinski, Sharon M. Donovan, Barbara Fiese and Kelly Bost.

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