Get smart – eat your greens

they will make you smarter!

We now know that breast feeding boys makes them smarter and your diet may influence the sex of your offspring.

Now experts are saying that eating a healthy diet will actually make your kids smarter.

In research carried out at the University of Bristol involving information on 14,000 children over 7 years (published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health) IQ scores increased when a young child’s diet included plenty of fruit and vegetables but decreased when their diet was based on sugar and fats.

The 20% of children eating the most processed food scored 5% lower than the 20% of children who ate most healthily.

After taking into account the mother’s education and social class they found that children with an unhealthy diet at age 3 scored lower in IQ tests 5 years later. A healthy diet at the age of 3 was associated with a high IQ in later life.

Changing a child’s diet after the age of 3 made no difference to later IQ scores, perhaps because the brain is growing at its fastest rate in those early years. Poor diet has also been linked with behavioural problems and difficulty in concentrating.

Now you’d think that most people would know intuitively that junk food, high in fats and sugar, is not really good for you.

Yet the fast food and soft drink companies manage to become sponsors of sporting events and footballers endorse fizzy drinks and by doing so they influence what people consume.

Dutch researchers at Erasmus university found that these endorsements are significantly more persuasive than conventional adverts. Using MRI scans they found that celebrity endorsement activated parts of the brain associated with trust, learning and long-term memory.

Evolutionary psychologists would say that we are also imitating successful people as a survival strategy and over-identifying with celebrities. Hence the popularity of twitter as a promotional tool. In America product placement has expanded far beyond its use in films (James Bond films are a good and early example of this).

On American Idol, sponsored by Coca Cola, product placement is present 60% of the time either through the red walls, coke bottle-shaped furniture, branded cups or the judges sipping the stuff on camera.

A Yale University study in the Annual Review of Public Health concluded that product placement is; “composed almost entirely of messages for nutrient-poor, calorie-dense foods” which is “having harmful effects on child obesity”. Some Americans wish it had never been allowed.

And things are going to get worse in the UK because at the end of February the rules are changing on product placement on TV. For the first time food and drink can be promoted within a programme and not just as a sponsor.

Ofcom says there is a ban on product placement in programmes aimed specifically at under-14s and that it will monitor programmes with a high proportion of children watching. There are also guidelines that aim to ban food high in fats, sugar and salt being placed in British-made programmes but these are based on recommendations from the FSA which has been disbanded by the government.

The British Heart Foundation is unhappy as they don’t believe the laws go far enough to protect children from junk foods and drinks and they would like a complete pre-9 pm watershed ban on any placement for products high in fat, sugar or salt.

It seems one problem is defining junk food. Marmite is usually thought of as healthy but contains high levels of salt; and honey contains high levels of sugar.

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