Chronic protein deficiency may cause delays in a child's brain development that improves little over time, a new study shows.
For their study, published in the online journal Behavioral and Brain Functions, the researchers assessed the cognitive development of 20 malnourished children and 20 adequately nourished children at different ages.
Malnourished children, the researchers found, performed more poorly than adequately nourished children on most of the neuropsychological tests they were given.
In particular, malnourished children had problems with tests of attention, memory, visual perception, verbal comprehension and other so-called "higher cognitive processes."
Moreover, there was only minimal improvement with age. The cognitive performance of malnourished 5- to 7-year-olds was "poor and much lower" than that of adequately nourished children their age, and the gap was not much smaller among 8- to 10-year-olds.
A chronic lack of protein does not seem to affect basic cognitive processes like movement speed, which is affected in cases of other nutritional deficiencies, the investigators note.
The current findings, they say, support numerous other studies that have shown a "wide range of cognitive deficits" in malnourished children. - (Reuters Health)
SOURCE: Behavioral and Brain Functions, online July 24, 2008.
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