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Healthy diet linked to better reading skills in young children

The Mediterranean, Baltic Sea and Finnish diets were seen to have a positive impact on reading fluency and comprehension between grades 1 and 3.

By Stephen Feller
Healthy diet linked to better reading skills in young children
Researchers in Finland found children with healthier diets develop better reading skills in the early grades of elementary school than those with less healthy diets, according to a recent study. Photo by wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock

JOENSUU, Finland, Sept. 13 (UPI) -- Children tend to develop better reading skills during their first three years of school if they eat a healthy diet, according to new research in Finland.

Researchers at the University of Eastern Finland tracked children's reading progress between grades one and three, finding those with better diets had more advanced skills, according to a study published in the European Journal of Nutrition.

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A 2013 study looked at whether the combination of a healthy diet, "quality" preschool and interactive reading could improve intelligence, but the new study looked specifically at the association between good food and better reading skills.

The researchers compared children's diets to the Mediterranean diet, the Baltic Sea diet, and Finnish healthy diet recommendations, finding children who stuck closer to the basics of any of the three diets -- all of which are generally regarded as healthier than standard western diets -- fared better in reading comprehension and skills development.

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"Another significant observation is that the associations of diet quality with reading skills were also independent of many confounding factors, such as socio-economic status, physical activity, body adiposity, and physical fitness," Dr. Eero Haapala, a researchers at the University of Eastern Finland and the University of Jyväskylä, said in a press release.

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For the study, the researchers recruited 161 Finnish children between ages 6 and 8 who were in 1st grade, assessing their 4-day food records using the Mediterranean Diet Score, Baltic Sea Diet Score and Finnish Children Health Eating Index. The children were then followed through grades 2 and 3, with reading level and diets assessed along the way.

The researchers found the Mediterranean diet was linked to better reading comprehension in third grade, the Baltic Sea diet was linked to better reading fluency in grades 2 and 3 and better comprehension in all three grades, and the Finnish diet was linked to better fluency in grades 1 and 2 and better comprehension in all three grades.

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Children with the highest scores for Baltic Sea and Finnish diets also had better reading fluency and comprehension across all three grades than children with the lowest scores for adhering to the diets, as well.

All three diets are higher in vegetables, fruit and berries, fish, whole grains and unsaturated fats, and much lower in red meat, sugar and saturated fats than conventional western diets.

In addition to other benefits of the diets seen in previous studies, the researchers say the study suggests parents, schools, governments and companies do a better job of getting healthy foods to children.

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