Household chaos may impair young children’s cognitive skills

Scientists have suggested a possible link between household chaos coupled with poor nutrition as a reason behind decline or impairment of young children’s cognitive skills including memory, attention and emotional control.

Researchers found that children aged 18 months to 2 years whose diet was dominated by sugary snacks and processed foods were more likely to have problems with core components of executive functioning such as inhibition, working memory, and planning and organizing abilities. The findings were based on analysis of data provided by nearly 300 families.

Published in the journal Nutrients, the study was based on extensive data collected from the children’s caregivers, including a dietary intake questionnaire that assessed how often each child consumed various fresh and processed foods. Caregivers also completed a behavioral inventory that measured various dimensions of executive function such as whether the child became easily overwhelmed or had recurrent problems with playing or talking too loudly.

Additionally, each caregiver answered questions about household chaos, such as whether the child’s home environment was typically quiet and run with established routines or was prone to noise, overcrowding and disorganization.

Accordingly, the U. of I. researchers’ analyses suggested that poor nutrition – including regular consumption of various snacks and processed foods – was associated with diminished cognitive performance and behavior among the children in the study.

The findings highlight the importance of both good nutrition and healthy household environments in promoting children’s best cognitive development, said co-author Kelly Freeman Bost, a professor of child development and of psychology.

To mitigate potential negative effects on children’s cognitive skills, Iwinksi suggested that prevention programs focus on activities and supports that help parents establish healthy routines and limit their children’s consumption of snacks and less healthy foods.

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