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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: DIETARY INFLUENCES ON PSYCHOLOGICAL AND PHYSIOLOGICAL FUNCTION IN CHILDREN
2012 Annual Report


1a.Objectives (from AD-416):
Determine the influence of dietary factors on growth, physiological, psychological and cognitive development and functioning in children (from infancy through childhood). The overall goals of this study are to:.
1)evaluate the effects of infant diet (breast-milk, dairy- and soy-based formulas, and monosaccharide supplemented formula) on physiological, behavioral, and cognitive development in infants and children;.
2)determine the effects of diet composition, meal patterns, and meal frequency on brain function and behavioral dynamics that are important for learning and school performance in well-characterized normal and overweight school children; and.
3)characterize neurocognitive function that contributes to or is a consequence of obesity in children, including brain-function correlates of food-seeking behavior.


1b.Approach (from AD-416):
Children (infants, toddlers, and school-aged youths) will be studied longitudinally to evaluate the effects of infant diet (specifically, breast-milk, dairy- and soy-based formulas, and monosaccharide supplemented formula) on physiological, behavioral and cognitive development in infants and children. Nutritional status assessments, anthropometric measurements, urine and blood analysis, and measures of psychological, neuropsychological, and cognitive measures will be obtained and analyzed. The effects of diet composition, meal patterns, and meal frequency on brain function and behavioral dynamics that are important for learning and school performance in normal and overweight school children will be assessed using validated survey instruments and state-of-the-art research equipment. Neurocognitive function will be characterized that contributes to or is a consequence of obesity in children, including brain-function correlates of food-seeking behavior.


3.Progress Report:
Significant progress was made on all objectives of this project through the established Specific Cooperative Agreement. Please see 6251-51000-006-03S for the detailed FY12 Progress Report.


4.Accomplishments
1. Diet influences the rate at which speech sound information is communicated within the brain. The integration of speech sound information across brain regions is fundamental to language comprehension. The brain first processes syllables in the speech perception area (Wernicke's Area), and this area then communicates (via neural impulses) with other brain regions, such as the speech production area (Broca's area). Just how infant diet may influence the development of these interacting brain networks is not known. Scientists at the Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center in Little Rock, Arkansas, studied this question by comparing the speed with which neural impulses reach these regions areas (Wernicke's and Broca's areas) in 3-month-old infants who were breastfed or formula-fed (milk-based or soy-based). We found earlier activation in Wernicke's region than Broca's region across diet groups, but with shorter activation times (i.e., greater processing speed) between these sites in milk-fed than breastfed and soy-fed infants, which suggests that infant diets can differentially modify the development of timing relationships in communication between these important brain regions. Although the significance of these effects is not clear, our data showing breast-fed infants score better on standardized measures of language development might suggest a disadvantage in language development for 3-month-old infants fed milk formula.

2. Do differences in postnatal diet affect behavioral and language development during infancy? Behavioral development during infancy establishes the foundation for later development, but there are no studies comparing the influence of the three major infant diets (breast-milk, milk-based formula, and soy formula) on this development. Scientists at the Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center in Little Rock, Arkansas, are addressing these issues in a longitudinal investigation of healthy infants fed these diets. Findings in 391 infants during the first year of life showed that all groups scored within the normal range on standardized developmental tests of mental, psychomotor, and language development. Analyses with adjustments for differences in potentially confounding background and environmental factors showed no differences between formula-fed groups on these measures, but a slight advantage was seen in cognitive development for breastfed compared with formula-fed infants. These findings provide new comparative information regarding the influence of infant diet on early mental, behavioral, and language development to parents and physicians and should help reduce the concerns of parents and industry regarding the use of soy formula.

3. Breakfast improves memory needed for solving math problems. Memory is critical for learning, but how brain processes regulating memory function are influenced by morning nutrition in school-aged children has not been determined. Scientists at the Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center in Little Rock, Arkansas, have recorded brain electrical activity during the performance of a complex mental function (mental arithmetic) in children (8 to 10 years old) who ate breakfast compared to those who skipped this meal. Researchers found that for those who ate breakfast, working memory during the tasks of solving math problems was made more efficient by increasing brain activity that prevents task-irrelevant information from gaining access to, and interfering with, working memory function. Brain activity measured in children who skipped breakfast showed they required greater mental effort to do the same mathematical processing. These results are important in identifying specific brain processes involved in information processing that are sensitive to a short-term variation in morning nutrition in well-nourished preadolescents, and provide evidence of beneficial effects of consuming breakfast on processes important in learning.


Review Publications
Pivik, R.T., Andres, A., Badger, T.M. 2012. Effects of diet on early stage cortical perception and discrimination of syllables differing in voice-onset time: A longitudinal ERP study in 3 and 6 month old infants. Brain and Language. 120(1):27-41.

Pivik, R.T., Tennal, K., Chapman, S.D., Gu, Y.M. 2012. Eating breakfast enhances the efficiency of neural networks engaged during mental arithmetic in school-aged children. Physiology and Behavior. 106(4):548-555.

Last Modified: 10/21/2014
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