If organic food plays a major role in your diet, you’re not alone. According to a 2021 report from the Organic Trade Association, organic food sales in the U.S. topped $56 billion in 2021, up 12.8% from the year prior. However, it’s not just your body that may benefit from eating organic foods—a new study suggests that organic food consumption in childhood may have a positive impact on cognitive development as well.
A study conducted by researchers at the Barcelona Institute for Global and the Pere Virgili Health Research Institute and published in the September 2021 volume of Environmental Pollution analyzed data from 1,298 pairs consisting of a mother and their child, the latter aged between 6 and 11 years old.
Researchers found that consumption of organic food among school-age children was associated with higher scores on tests of working memory, a means of processing and storing new information, and fluid intelligence, the ability to identify new information and use logic and problem-solving abilities to understand it. On the other hand, consumption of fast food, living in a crowded home, and exposure to tobacco smoke were associated with lower measures of fluid intelligence and working memory.
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“We observed that several prenatal environmental pollutants (indoor air pollution and tobacco smoke) and lifestyle habits during childhood (diet, sleep, and family social capital) were associated with behavioral problems in children,” said Martine Vrijheid, a co-author of the study and head of ISGlobal’s Childhood and Environment program, in a statement.
However, there were some surprising results discovered by researchers as well, including associations between pregnant women’s green exposure and lower cognitive performance in their children.
Researchers also found that maternal alcohol intake, higher levels of perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (a type of pollutant), and higher prenatal mercury levels all associated with higher cognitive performance, which the study’s authors noted might be “due to confounding and reverse causality.”
This isn’t the first time experts have found an association between childhood dietary habits and cognitive ability, however; a 2014 study published in the journal Clinical Pediatrics found that fifth-graders who self-reported higher rates of fast food consumption had lower science, math, and reading test scores by the time they reached eighth grade.