Healthy eating key to girls' ability to learn

July 17, 2012, Monash University

(Medical Xpress) -- 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, and the National Health Research Institute, Taiwan, found with lower 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 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.

“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.

Explore further: Diet or DNA: are we fated to be fat?

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