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January 18, 2018 Thursday 04:05:49 PM IST

Build IQ, sleep better, with fish consumption, says study

Parent Interventions

New findings from the University of Pennsylvania suggest children who eat fish at least once a week sleep better and have IQ scores that are 4 points higher, on average, than those who consume fish less frequently or not at all.

Previous studies showed a relationship between omega-3s, the fatty acids in many types of fish, and improved intelligence, as well as omega-3s and better sleep. But they've never all been connected before. This work, conducted by Jianghong Liu, Jennifer Pinto-Martin and Alexandra Hanlon of the School of Nursing and Penn Integrates Knowledge Professor Adrian Raine, reveals sleep as a possible mediating pathway, the potential missing link between fish and intelligence.

For the work, a cohort of 541 9- to 11-year-olds in China, 54 per cent boys and 46 per cent girls, completed a questionnaire about how often they consumed fish in the past month, with options ranging from 'never' to 'at least once per week'. They also took the Chinese version of an IQ test.

Their parents then answered questions about sleep quality using the standardised Children Sleep Habits Questionnaire, which included topics such as sleep duration and frequency of night waking or daytime sleepiness. Finally, the researchers controlled for demographic information, including parental education, occupation and marital status and number of children in the home.


Analysing these data points, the Penn team found that children who reported eating fish weekly scored 4.8 points higher on the IQ exams than those who said they 'seldom' or 'never' consumed fish. Those whose meals sometimes included fish scored 3.3 points higher. In addition, increased fish consumption was associated with fewer disturbances of sleep, which the researchers say indicates better overall sleep quality.

Pinto-Martin, who is executive director of Penn's Center for Public Health Initiatives, says, 'Children should be introduced to it early on.'

'Introducing the taste early makes it more palatable,' Pinto-Martin said. Children are sensitive to smell. If they're not used to it, they may shy away from it.'

For the moment, the researchers recommend incrementally incorporating additional fish into a diet; consumption even once a week moves a family into the 'high' fish-eating group as defined in the study.


'Doing that could be a lot easier than nudging children about going to bed,' Raine said. 'If the fish improves sleep, great. If it also improves cognitive performance -- like we've seen here -- even better. It's a double hit.'

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