Thursday, April 5, 2012

Feeding babies on demand may improve IQ

Ba­bies who are fed when­ev­er they want may lat­er per­form bet­ter in school than those who were fed on a sched­ule, new re­search sug­gests.

The find­ing is based on the re­sults of in­tel­li­gence tests and school-based stand­ard­ized tests car­ried out be­tween the ages of five and 14. The IQ scores of eight-year-old chil­dren who had been demand-fed as ba­bies were four to five points high­er than the scores of sched­ule-fed chil­dren, the stu­dy found. IQ tests are a meas­ure of in­tel­li­gence de­signed to ex­press the dif­fer­ence be­tween a per­son’s in­tel­li­gence and the av­er­age in­tel­li­gence for their age group, roughly as a per­cent­age.

The find­ings are pub­lished in the Eu­ro­pe­an Jour­nal of Pub­lic Health.

The study was car­ried out by re­search­ers at the In­sti­tute for So­cial and Eco­nom­ic Re­search at the Uni­vers­ity of Es­sex, U.K., and at the Uni­vers­ity of Ox­ford. But the re­search­ers urged cau­tion in in­ter­pret­ing the find­ings.

“We must be very cau­tious about claim­ing a caus­al link be­tween feed­ing pat­terns and IQ. We can­not de­fin­i­tively say why these dif­fer­ences oc­cur, al­though we do have a range of hy­pothe­ses. This is the first study to ex­plore this ar­ea and more re­search is needed to un­der­stand the pro­cesses in­volved,” said Ma­ria Ia­covou, who led the re­search from the Uni­vers­ity of Es­sex.

Tak­ing in­to ac­count a wide range of back­ground fac­tors that in­clude par­ents’ educa­t­ional lev­el, family in­come, the child’s sex and age, ma­ter­nal health and par­ent­ing styles, the re­search found that demand-feed­ing is as­so­ci­at­ed with high­er IQ scores at age eight, and this dif­fer­ence is al­so ev­i­dent in the re­sults of stand­ard­ized tests at ages five, sev­en, 11 and 14. The study found that sched­uled feed­ing times did have ben­e­fits for the moth­ers, how­ev­er, who re­ported feel­ings of con­fi­dence and high lev­els of well-be­ing.

“The dif­fer­ence be­tween sched­ule and demand-fed chil­dren is found both in breast­fed and in bottle-fed ba­bies,” said Ia­covou.

“The dif­fer­ence in IQ lev­els of around four to five points, though sta­tis­tic­ally highly sig­nif­i­cant, would not make a child at the bot­tom of the class move to the top, but it would be no­tice­a­ble. To give a sense of the kind of dif­fer­ence that four or five high­er IQ points might make, in a class of 30 chil­dren, for ex­am­ple, a child who is right in the mid­dle of the class, ranked at 15th, might be, with an im­prove­ment of four or five IQ points, ranked higher, at about 11th or 12th in the class.”

The chil­dren of moth­ers who had tried but failed to feed to a sched­ule were found to have si­m­i­lar test scores as demand-fed ba­bies, Ia­covou said, which is no­ta­ble be­cause they would be ex­pected to do worse based on their moth­ers’ typ­i­cal de­mograph­ics. “It seems that it is ac­tu­ally hav­ing been fed to a sched­ule, rath­er than hav­ing the type of moth­er who at­tempted to feed to a sched­ule (suc­cess­fully or not) which makes the dif­fer­ence,” she said.

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