Among the myriad things parents worry about every day is their child’s academic performance. With such emphasis placed on standardized testing within American school systems, it can feel like a microscope is placed on children’s aptitude. If a student struggles academically, parents may feel that they’ve dropped the metaphorical ball somewhere along the way to that all-important second-grade end-of-year test.
From Baby Einstein to ABC Mouse, children’s academic development is a big money market. But a new study from researchers at the University of Eastern Finland recently found that improving a child’s critical thinking skills might be as easy as switching up their diet and getting them involved in sports.
The research team looked at data collected for the Physical Activity and Nutrition in Children (PANIC) study, an in-progress study examining diet and physical activity habits in school-aged children. They examined data from 397 Finnish schoolchildren and found that after two years, those who reported eating more red meat or sausage showed a slight decrease in cognitive ability, while those who reported an increased involvement in organized sports reported an increase in cognitive ability.
“Children with healthier eating habits showed greater cognitive development than other children. Specifically, better overall diet quality, lower red meat consumption, and higher low-fat dairy product intake were linked to better reasoning skills,” study co-author University of Eastern Finland Doctoral Researcher Sehrish Naveed said in a statement.
Children who reported more time spent reading and increased dairy consumption showed an increase in cognitive ability. Those who reported spending time in unorganized physical activity, using a computer, and writing showed lower cognitive ability than other groups.
“In the lives of growing children, diet and physical activity intervention is just one factor influencing lifestyle and reasoning skills. Based on our study, investing in a healthy diet and encouraging children to read are beneficial for the development of reasoning skills among children. Additionally, engaging in organized sports appears to support reasoning skills,” study co-author Dr. Eero Haapala said in a statement.
The research team suggests their findings should encourage parents and caregivers to support leisure time reading and participation in organized sports and improve overall diet quality to boost cognitive development in elementary school children.
The findings support previous research showing that the MIND diet, which, similar to the Mediterranean diet, promotes whole grains and vegetables and recommends against too much red meat, supports healthy cognitive development in kids.