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Updated 22 September 2016

Healthy diet may be key to kids' reading skills

Finnish researchers found that learners' reading skills improved more if they avoided sugary foods and red meat and ate more vegetables, fruit, fish, whole grains and unsaturated fats.

Healthy eating may offer young children an unexpected benefit – it might help them become better readers, a new study suggests.

Food diaries

Researchers in Finland found students' reading skills improved more between first grade and third grade if they didn't eat a lot of sugary foods or red meat, and if their diet consisted mainly of vegetables, berries and other fruits, as well as fish, whole grains and unsaturated fats.

The study included 161 Finnish students. They were between the ages of 6 and 8 (first grade to third grade). The researchers reviewed the children's diets and their reading ability using food diaries and standardised reading tests.

Read: Is your child a picky eater? It could be a sign of depression or anxiety

A healthier diet was associated with better reading skills by third grade, regardless of how well the students could read in first grade, the researchers said.

No cause-and-effect

"Another significant observation is that the associations of diet quality with reading skills were also independent of many confounding factors, such as socioeconomic status, physical activity, body adiposity [fat] and physical fitness," study author Eero Haapala said in a University of Eastern Finland news release. He is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Eastern Finland and the University of Jyvaskyla.

Read: Health check: is caffeine actually bad for kids?

Does that mean parents of picky eaters should be concerned about their child's reading abilities? Not necessarily. Although this study found an association between the foods young children ate and their reading skills, it didn't prove cause-and-effect.

Still, the study's authors said parents, schools, governments and corporations all have an opportunity to enhance academic performance in schools by making healthy foods more available to children.

The study was published recently in the European Journal of Nutrition.

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