Dietary patterns, brain morphology and cognitive performance in children: Results from a prospective population-based study

Yuchan Mou, Elisabet Blok, Monica Barroso, Pauline W. Jansen, Tonya White, Trudy Voortman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
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Dietary patterns in childhood have been associated with child neurodevelopment and cognitive performance, while the underlying neurobiological pathway is unclear. We aimed to examine associations of dietary patterns in infancy and mid-childhood with pre-adolescent brain morphology, and whether diet-related differences in brain morphology mediate the relation with cognition. We included 1888 and 2326 children with dietary data at age one or eight years, respectively, and structural neuroimaging at age 10 years in the Generation R Study. Measures of brain morphology were obtained using magnetic resonance imaging. Dietary intake was assessed using food-frequency questionnaires, from which we derived diet quality scores based on dietary guidelines and dietary patterns using principal component analyses. Full scale IQ was estimated using the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-Fifth Edition at age 13 years. Children with higher adherence to a dietary pattern labeled as ‘Snack, processed foods and sugar’ at age one year had smaller cerebral white matter volume at age 10 (B = -4.3, 95%CI -6.9, -1.7). At age eight years, higher adherence to a ‘Whole grains, soft fats and dairy’ pattern was associated with a larger total brain (B = 8.9, 95%CI 4.5, 13.3), and larger cerebral gray matter volumes at age 10 (B = 5.2, 95%CI 2.9, 7.5). Children with higher diet quality and better adherence to a ‘Whole grains, soft fats and dairy’ dietary pattern at age eight showed greater brain gyrification and larger surface area, clustered primarily in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. These observed differences in brain morphology mediated associations between dietary patterns and IQ. In conclusion, dietary patterns in early- and mid-childhood are associated with differences in brain morphology which may explain the relation between dietary patterns and neurodevelopment in children.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)669-687
Number of pages19
JournalEuropean Journal of Epidemiology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The Generation R Study is conducted by Erasmus Medical Center in close collaboration with the School of Law and the Faculty of Social Sciences at the Erasmus University, Rotterdam; the Municipal Health Service, Rotterdam area; and the Stichting Trombosedienst & Artsenlaboratorium Rijnmond (Star-MDC), Rotterdam. We gratefully acknowledge the contribution of mothers, general practitioners, hospitals, midwives, and pharmacies in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

Funding Information:
The general design of the Generation R Study is made possible by finical support from the Erasmus MC, University Medical Center, Rotterdam, Erasmus University Rotterdam, the Netherlands Organization for Health Research and Development (ZonMw), Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO), Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport and Ministry of Youth and Families. Yuchan Mou is supported by China Scholarship Council (CSC) PhD Fellowship for her PhD study in Erasmus Medical Center, Rotterdam, the Netherlands. The scholarship file number is 201806240125, CSC URL: . Pauline Jansen is supported by a grant from ZonMw (Mental Health Care Research Program—Fellowship 636320005). The neuroimaging data collection and image processing is supported by ZonMw TOP Grant 91211021 to Tonya White. Supercomputing resources were supported by the NWO Physical Sciences Division (Exacte Wetenschappen) and SURFsara (Cartesius compute cluster, ). The funders had no role in the study design, data collection, management, analysis and interpretation of data, and preparation or writing the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, The Author(s).


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