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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: DIETARY INFLUENCES ON PSYCHOLOGICAL AND PHYSIOLOGICAL FUNCTION IN CHILDREN
2013 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:
Significant progress was made on all objectives of this project through the established Specific Cooperative Agreement. Please see 6251-51000-006-03S for the detailed FY13 Progress Report.


4.Accomplishments
1. Early development of heart rate regulation differs between breast-fed and formula-fed infants. Heart rate control is critical to health, behavioral and cognitive function, yet it is not known if differences in infant diet are associated with differences in the development of heart rate control. In their longitudinal investigation (Beginnings study) of the development of breast-fed, soy formula-fed, and milk formula-fed infants, scientists at the Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center in Little Rock, Arkansas, are providing the first information regarding this question. Findings in 465 infants based on measures of resting heart rate across the first two years of life revealed that vagal tone--a parameter of the autonomic nervous system that regulates cardiac function by slowing heart rate--was within the normal range across groups but was lower after 6 months in breast-fed than formula-fed infants. Variations in vagal tone have been related to mental development and emotional behavior in infants, children, and adults. These findings provide new information regarding the influence of early infant diet on neurodevelopment and suggest that variations in early diet may contribute to the development of individual differences in autonomic heart rate control which is important in the regulation of attention, emotion, mental abilities and behavior. Further, these results should help reduce concerns of parents and industry regarding the use of soy formula.

2. Heart rate development in breast-fed and formula-fed infants differs among boys but not girls. Sex differences in the effects of dietary factors on physiology have been documented in adults, but whether such effects are present during early development has not been determined. Scientists at the Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center in Little Rock, Arkansas, are studying the development of breast-fed and formula-fed infants (soy and milk formulas) and have found evidence of diet-related gender-specific influences on the development of a fundamental physiological parameter: heart rate. Based on measures of resting heart rate across the first two years of life, they observed that after 6 months, heart rate was faster in breast-fed than formula-fed boys, but similar in girls across diet groups. Since heart rate influences the delivery of blood-borne nutrients that fuel brain and body functions, the presence of diet- and gender-specific interactions on heart rate during early development has potential long-term implications for physiological and mental development. These findings further our understanding of the influence of early dietary factors on development, and similar results for formula-fed groups should help reduce concerns of parents and industry regarding the safety of soy formula.

3. Brain processes promoting discrimination of speech sounds are more developed in soy formula-fed than milk formula-fed infants at 4 months. The majority of infants are formula-fed by 6 months of age, but little is known about how different infant formulas influence the early postnatal development of brain processes that are important for language recognition. To address this question, scientists at the Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center in Little Rock, Arkansas, compared brain responses to two syllables "ba" and "pa" (one presented more often than the other) in 4-month-old infants fed either milk formula or soy formula. Researchers found that brain processes that increase the ability to distinguish between these two speech sounds were less developed in infants fed milk formula. These results provide new information regarding early diet-related influences on the development of brain processes fundamental to learning and neural plasticity, and should help reduce concerns of parents and industry regarding the use of soy formula.


Last Modified: 10/20/2014
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