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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: DIETARY INFLUENCES ON PSYCHOLOGICAL AND PHYSIOLOGICAL FUNCTION IN CHILDREN
2011 Annual Report


1a.Objectives (from AD-416)
Determine the influence of dietary factors on growth, physiological, psychological and cognitive development and functioning in children (from infancy through childhood). The overall goals of this study are to:.
1)evaluate the effects of infant diet (breast-milk, dairy- and soy-based formulas, and monosaccharide supplemented formula) on physiological, behavioral, and cognitive development in infants and children;.
2)determine the effects of diet composition, meal patterns, and meal frequency on brain function and behavioral dynamics that are important for learning and school performance in well-characterized normal and overweight school children; and.
3)characterize neurocognitive function that contributes to or is a consequence of obesity in children, including brain-function correlates of food-seeking behavior.


1b.Approach (from AD-416)
Children (infants, toddlers, and school-aged youths) will be studied longitudinally to evaluate the effects of infant diet (specifically, breast-milk, dairy- and soy-based formulas, and monosaccharide supplemented formula) on physiological, behavioral and cognitive development in infants and children. Nutritional status assessments, anthropometric measurements, urine and blood analysis, and measures of psychological, neuropsychological, and cognitive measures will be obtained and analyzed. The effects of diet composition, meal patterns, and meal frequency on brain function and behavioral dynamics that are important for learning and school performance in normal and overweight school children will be assessed using validated survey instruments and state-of-the-art research equipment. Neurocognitive function will be characterized that contributes to or is a consequence of obesity in children, including brain-function correlates of food-seeking behavior.


3.Progress Report
We continued to conduct the longitudinal Beginnings Study, which tracks the physical, behavioral, psychophysiological, and neurocognitive development from birth - 6 yrs. Brain development and function are being studied in infants/children who were fed one of the 3 major infant diets [breast milk (BF), cow milk-based (MF), and soy-based (SF) formula]. The study is now in its ninth year. We are approaching the target-population goal of 200/group; 81 enrolled during the year, bringing the total enrollment to 588. We studied various aspects of brain function (cognition, language acquisition, etc.) in 697 participants. Data from these studies are providing answers on how and the extent to which early nutritional status and diet influence growth, brain, and cognitive development during the formative period from birth through early childhood. These studies involve documenting the effects of soy formula, since international controversy exists about the safety and efficacy of this formula. Our data suggest that brain function/development are within normal ranges for all diet groups. We are documenting diet-related differences within the normal range, since the literature suggests they may have significant implications for future brain function. The results to date involving substantial numbers of children have not revealed any adverse effects of soy formula on study measures; in fact, results in SF infants are often more like those of BF children than are results from children fed MF formula. In another study, older children (> age 8 years) who were fed BF, MF, or SF as infants are being studied using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). This component examines electrophysiologial and fMRI correlates of language processing by the brain. The emphasis on language processing was based on early findings in the Beginnings Study indicating subtle diet-related differences in processing speech sounds. This year, 26 children were enrolled, bringing the study population to 44 (20 BF, 8 MF, and 16 SF). The target population is 20/infant diet-type. We are processing imaging and electrophysiological data and will be analyzing the data for group differences when planned group populations have been reached. Other emphasis is on studies designed to determine how variations in morning nutrition influence cognitive functions that promote learning in school-aged children. IRB approval was obtained for the next in our series of planned investigations. We continue to analyze data from our study using more recently developed techniques (EEG wavelet analysis) that allow for the identification of neural systems and processes interacting during information processing. Our analyses have indicated that morning nutrition enhances brain activity related to attention and memory and facilitates complex mental functions (mental arithmetic) in school-aged children. The findings are informing our planned studies, including further investigation into how morning nutrition influences cognitive functions in children.


4.Accomplishments
1. Working memory is better developed in breastfed than formula-fed infants at 6 months. Although it is well known that memory is critical for learning, the potential effects of infant diet on the development of memory processes is not known. In their longitudinal investigation of infant diet on neurocognitive and behavioral development, scientists at Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center in Little Rock, AR, studied the influence of the three major diets (breast milk, milk-based formula or soy formula) on working memory function during processing of speech sounds. Using brain responses (known as event-related potentials) to spoken syllables, they found that working memory is better developed in breastfed than formula-fed infants at 6 months, but there were no differences between milk-based and soy-based formula groups. These findings provide new information to pediatricians and parents regarding infant diet and early cognitive development, as well as comparative information regarding infant formula which should help reduce the concerns of parents and industry regarding the use of soy formula.

2. The mechanisms by which breast feeding enhances brain processing of language sounds appear to involve selective activation of frontal brain regions. Brain development and behavior are thought to differ between infants fed breast milk and formulas (milk-based or soy-based), but the effects of early diet on brain development is not well understood. Scientists at the Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center (ACNC) in Little Rock, AR, compared brain responses to spoken syllables in healthy 3-month-old infants fed these diets (40-50/group) and found a more selective activation of frontal brain regions in breastfed than formula-fed infants, indicating more rapid maturation of frontal areas in breastfed infants at this time. These findings provide new supportive data that offer a potential explanation for how breast feeding might stimulate maturation of the central nervous system, thereby subtly advancing brain development as compared to formula feeding.

3. Brain responses to speech sounds predict mental development scores in 3-month-old infants. Standardized behavioral tests (such as the Bayley Scales of Infant Development) can determine if a child's mental development and behavior are within normal ranges, but it has been difficult to link specific brain electrical responses to external stimuli to these standardized results early in development. Scientists at the Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center in Little Rock, AR, have measured brain responses to speech sounds in 3-month-old infants and found that brain responses are predictive of scores on the Bayley Mental Development Index, and that these relationships differ between breastfed and milk formula-fed infants. All measures were within the normal range across the differently fed groups. These findings provide new information showing predictive relationships between brain activity and standardized behavioral test results in healthy infants early in postnatal development. Furthermore, these data provide two independent measures of brain function to suggest that what an infant is fed early in life can affect brain development and behavior.


Review Publications
Li, J., Dykman, R.A., Jing, H., Gilchrist, J.M., Badger, T.M., Pivik, R.T. 2010. Cortical responses to speech sounds in 3- and 6-month-old infants fed breast milk, milk formula, or soy formula. Journal of Clinical Neurophysiology. 35(6):762-784.

Pivik, R.T., Andres, A., Badger, T.M. 2011. Diet and gender influences on processing and discrimination of speech sounds in 3 and 6 month-old infants: A developmental ERP study. Developmental Science. 14(4):700-712.

Last Modified: 12/22/2014
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