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Health & wellbeing

A comprehensive study conducted by researchers at the University of Eastern Finland has unveiled a noteworthy association between children's dietary patterns, leisure activities, and cognitive development. The study's findings suggest that children who adopt healthier eating habits, read more frequently, and engage in structured sports tend to exhibit enhanced reasoning skills during the initial years of schooling.

Doctoral Researcher Sehrish Naveed, the lead author of the study, emphasizes the significance of the link between diet quality and cognitive development. Naveed states, "Children with healthier eating habits showed greater cognitive development than other children. Specifically, better overall diet quality, lower red meat consumption, and higher intake of low-fat dairy products were correlated with better reasoning skills."

The research also highlights the positive impact of reading and organized sports on children's cognitive abilities. Children who dedicated more time to reading and participated in structured sports outperformed their peers in reasoning tests. Conversely, the study found that excessive computer usage and unsupervised leisure-time physical activity were associated with weaker thinking skills. Interestingly, screen time, active school transportation, playtime physical activity, and physical activity intensity did not exhibit a significant correlation with thinking skills.

The study encompassed a cohort of children, with over half participating in a family-based and individualized diet and physical activity intervention spanning two years. Surprisingly, the intervention did not yield a substantial impact on reasoning skills, as both the intervention and control groups demonstrated similar cognitive development.

Dr. Eero Haapala, a key researcher involved in the study, emphasizes the multifaceted nature of children's development. "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," Dr. Haapala points out.

The study sheds light on the intricate interplay between various lifestyle factors and cognitive development during childhood. By identifying the positive impact of dietary choices, reading, and organized sports, the research offers valuable insights for parents, educators, and policymakers seeking to promote well-rounded cognitive growth in young learners.