Reduced consumption of meat could help develop reasoning skills, study finds

By Augustus Bambridge-Sutton

- Last updated on GMT

Children reducing meat consumption were found to have better cognitive development. Image Source: Tiina & Geir/Getty Images
Children reducing meat consumption were found to have better cognitive development. Image Source: Tiina & Geir/Getty Images

Related tags diet Nutrition Meat

A study in Finland has found that reducing meat consumption, along with spending more time reading and playing organised sports, helped develop children’s reasoning skills.

The study, published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, ​looked at the development of 504 children aged 6-9.nn 

Over two years, one group of children had six dietary counselling sessions and six physical activity counselling sessions, while a control group didn’t. They were encouraged to take part in after school clubs with a strong physical activity component.

Assessing cognition by the Raven’s Coloured Progressive Matrices (tests designed to measure the learning ability of children and those with limited cognitive abilities), dietary factors by 4 day food records (with the Baltic Sea Diet Score (BSDS) used as a measure of quality) and physical activity measured by combined heart rate and body movement, the study looked into the impact of diet and exercise on the development of reasoning skills.

Intervention vs. change

The study looked at the impact of the counselling sessions and advice, (or "interventions") on the children's cognition.

It found that these interventions had no effect on the cognitive development of the children assessed, with those children receiving intervention having similar levels of cognitive development as the control group. One reason that intervention did not help children develop their cognition, the study speculated, could be that it did not include enough specific tasks challenging the brain, but instead focused on more general improvements in health behaviour.

However, differences in diet and physical activity between children did affect cognition. Reduction in red meat, such as sausages, as well as a higher consumption of low-fat milk, was shown to improve cognitive development. Alongside this, reading more and spending more time taking part in organised sports also improved reasoning.

On the other hand, more time spent on the computer and unsupervised physical activity had a negative association with cognitive skills.

One of the key findings of the study was that it was the first time low fat milk consumption had been linked to positive cognitive development in children. It speculates that this is because of the nutrients in milk, such as calcium and proteins.

In the lives of growing children, diet and physical activity intervention is just one factor influencing lifestyle and reasoning skills,” ​said Eero Haapala, one of the study’s authors.

“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 organised sports appears to support reasoning skills​.”

Children with healthier eatin​Reference g 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​,” added Sehrish Naveed, another researcher.

Sourced From: Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports
'Effects of 2-year dietary and physical activity intervention on cognition in children—a nonrandomized controlled trials’
Published on: 9 August 2023
Authors: S. Naveed, T. Sallinen, A. Eloranta, H. Skog, H. Jalkanen, S. Brage, U. Ekelund, H. Pentikäinen, K. Savonen, T. A. Lakka, E. A. Haapala

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