The relationship between diet, cognitive performance and educational outcomes in a prospective cohort study of Western Australian children

Anett Nyaradi

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Research suggests that nutrition influences brain development and consequently
cognitive and academic performance in children. Since individuals consume a
combination of foods, it is important to investigate diet as a comprehensive score in
association with cognitive and academic performance. Whilst earlier studies have
focused on individual micronutrients and single aspects of diet, the overall aim of this
thesis is to investigate the relationships between multiple dimension of dietary intake
including a comprehensive overall score, food components and patterns in early life
(ages one, two and three) and in adolescence and various cognitive and educational
outcomes at different developmental stages (cognitive development at ages 10 and 17;
educational outcomes at grades five, seven and nine) in a cohort of Western Australian
children. It is aimed to contribute to a growing body of evidence-based knowledge by
providing more solid evidence concerning diet, cognitive development and educational
outcome. This thesis uses data (dietary, cognitive performance and sociodemographic
factors) from the Western Australian Pregnancy Cohort (Raine) Study, a longitudinal
study of 2868 children and their families from 1989 to present day. Educational
outcome data obtained through data linkage by the Western Australian Department of
Health Data Linkage Branch.
Chapter One commences with an introduction and a description of the Raine Study and
dietary measurements. In Chapter Two, the current literature is reviewed in detail
regarding the association between aspects of nutrition and cognitive development.
Chapter Three reports on the findings of the associations between diet quality as a
comprehensive measurement score, the components of this score at one, two and three
years of age and cognitive development at 10 years of age. The result suggests that a
better diet quality during the early years of life may have a positive effect on children’s
cognitive ability in middle childhood. Chapter Four presents the longer term
associations, specifically with cognitive performance in 17 year old adolescents. In this
chapter, breastfeeding is also included as a predictor. The findings from this study
indicate that nutrition during infancy may have long-term associations with fundamental
cognitive processing speed. Chapter Five moves to the adolescent years looking at
dietary patterns at age 14 in association with cognitive performance at age 17. The
results shows that a higher dietary intake of the ‘Western” dietary pattern is associated
with poorer cognitive performance. Chapters Six and Seven focus on academic
performance as outcomes and report on the findings of associations between early diet
as well as adolescents’ dietary patterns and mathematics, reading, writing and spelling
scores in grades five, seven and nine. Higher quality of early diet is associated with
higher academic achievement later in childhood, while higher scores for the ‘Western’
dietary pattern during adolescence are linked with poorer academic performance.
Finally, the thesis concludes with Chapter Eight, in which a review of the findings, the
common mechanisms, the implications of the studies and future directions are
discussed. Overall, it has been shown in this thesis that diet is likely to enhance
cognitive development and academic performance during childhood and adolescence.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
  • Foster, Jonathan, Supervisor
  • Oddy, Wendy, Supervisor
  • Li, Jianghong, Supervisor
  • Hickling, Siobhan, Supervisor
Publication statusUnpublished - 2015


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