Good Nutrition Benefits Childhood Behavior and Development

Since Liu and Raine noted that positive social behavior, intelligence, and overall mental and physical well-being begins with childhood behaviors, they aimed to show that good nutrition has a positive effect on these developmental landmarks. “In the same study,” Raine said, “we’ve shown that children with positive social behavior, eight years later, they have higher IQs.”

The four physical aspects used to judge nutritional sufficiency were iron-deficient anemia indicated by low hemoglobin levels, angular stomatitis shown by cracking lips resulting from insufficient B2 and niacin, sparse hair due to protein deficiencies, and specific to this island, a red or orange tint to their typically black hair. For the social aspects observed, they looked at friendliness, exploratory behaviors, actively social play, and extent of verbalization.

Malnutrition and decreased social development

According to their findings, children who showed the fewest signs of malnutrition also showed significantly greater positive social behaviors. These researchers noted that less optimal nutrition led to a greater decline in neurocognitive ability, which caused a predisposition towards reduced social behaviors. Each of the physical measurements of malnutrition correlated with decreased social development, though those with thinning hair had the least correlation. Anemia seemed to have the most dramatic reduction on the social measurements, showing that this may be the most important variable in this study.

This type of research is still in its infancy, and is not yet well understood, though this study is an eye-opening look into how nutrition can impact cognitive development in addition to the physical landmarks commonly observed.

Lower IQ and impaired fine motor skills

Previous studies have shown that malnutrition early in life is correlated with problem behaviors when children reach adolescence. In this study, the group who experienced marasmus, or an episode of protein-energy malnutrition within the first year of life, had more difficulty with executive function as compared to the control group who did not have this same marasmus. Despite the fact that the children who were briefly malnourished did catch up to the physical markers for their age group and showed no further evidence of malnutrition, these youths continued to display cognitive deficits such as a lowered IQ and impaired fine motor skills. Early malnutrition may also play a role in later development of depressive symptoms.

Noting that the above discussed study focused on a small number of nutrients as well as protein consumption, and the comparison to the second study where infant protein was the focus, children may benefit from diets rich in easily digestible complete proteins as well as sources of vitamins and minerals that can impact these cognitive markers. Your clients may need more in-depth education about developing a well-rounded and nutrient dense diet that is easy to prepare and appealing to children, as well as similar education for mothers who are breastfeeding. Optionally, some clients may wish to supplement their children’s diets with additional vitamins and minerals, and may need guidance on formulas and dosages based on age, size, and overall nutritional status.

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