Food and Behaviour Research

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Associations between Prenatal and Early Childhood Fish and Processed Food Intake, Conduct Problems, and Co-Occurring Difficulties.

Mesirow MS, Cecil C, Maughan B, Barker ED. (2016) J Abnorm Child Psychol  Nov 3. Epub ahead of print 

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Little is known about early life diet as a risk factor for early-onset persistent conduct problems (EOP CP).

To investigate this, we used data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, a UK-based prospective epidemiological birth cohort. 5727 mother-child pairs (49.9 % boys) monitored since pregnancy (delivery date between 1 April, 1991 and 31 December, 1992) reported intake of fish and processed foods at 32 weeks gestation and, for the child, at 3 years; EOP (n = 666) and Low conduct problem (Low CP, n = 5061) trajectories were measured from 4 to 13 years; hyperactivity and emotional difficulties were assessed in childhood (4-10 years) and early adolescence (12-13 years), in addition to potential confounding factors (family adversity, birth complications, income).

Compared to Low CP, mothers of EOP children consumed less fish (p < 0.01) and more processed food (p < 0.05) prenatally, while EOP children consumed more processed food at 3 years (p < 0.05). For EOP, but not Low CP children, consuming less than two servings/week of fish (vs. two or more servings/week, p < 0.05), and one or more servings/day of processed food (vs. less than one serving/day, p < 0.01), was associated with higher emotional difficulties in early adolescence.


Findings suggest that prenatal and postnatal diets high in processed food, and low in fish, associate with an EOP CP trajectory and co-occurring difficulties in early adolescence. As small effect size differences were found, further studies are needed to investigate the long-term impact of early unhealthy diet.