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Diet, children and brain development, new study announced

CSIRO : 02 July, 2003  (Technical Article)
CSIRO scientists are turning the spotlight on the impact of diet on brain development in children in an ambitious study, the first of its kind in Australia. In the study announced today, a research team at CSIRO Health Sciences and Nutrition will chart developments in the cognitive performance of a group of 7-9 year old South Australian children over a 12 month period.
'Cognitive performance covers important abilities like the ability to learn, memorise information and solve problems. These are important life skills and clearly significant for school performance,' said research leader Dr Janet Bryan.

'Very little research has been done in this area but it is thought that the diets of children in Australia may be low in several nutrients, vitamins and minerals - important to brain development,' she said.

'We will be studying the effects of supplementing children's diets with certain nutrients that are necessary for the continuing development of the brain, especially the frontal lobes which are associated with a set of cognitive abilities called 'executive functions'. These include abilities like problem solving, planning, using strategies, evaluating and monitoring and staying on the task.'

Executive functions show spurts of development in the 7-9 year-old age group, which is why children in this age range are being selected for the study.

The research team will investigate the effects of three different combinations of nutrients on the cognitive and school performance of 400 children.

'Due to commercial considerations of our research partner, the Unilever Health Research Institute, we are not at liberty at the moment to divulge further details' explained Dr Bryan.

'However, the supplements that we will be using contain mixes of common, essential vitamins, minerals and other conventional nutrients which will not exceed the recommended daily nutrient intakes or tolerable upper intake limits as defined by Australian health authorities', she said.

Study participants will be required to take one supplement per day. They will be asked to complete a series of cognitive and school performance tests with psychologists on 4 occasions over a twelve month period and to keep food diaries for periods of 3 days on 4 occasions during the trial.

'It's a big ask of the kids, their parents and their schools' admitted Dr Bryan.

'But you just can't get meaningful results in this area by cutting corners'.

Recruitment of study participants is in the final stages and could not be undertaken without enthusiastic assistance from the South Australian Department of Education and Children's Services, according to Dr Bryan.

'Final letters have gone out recently to prospective study participants in selected schools, but we would welcome expressions of interest from parents of other children in South Australia in the 7-9 age group', she said.
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