Food and Behaviour Research

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Effects of food supplementation on cognitive function, cerebral blood flow, and nutritional status in young children at risk of undernutrition: randomized controlled trial

Roberts S, Franceschini M, Silver R, Taylor S, Sa A, Raimundo Có R, Sonco A, Krauss A, Taetzsch A, Webb P, Das S, Chen C, Rogers B, Saltzman E, Lin P, Schlossman N, Pruzensky W, Balé C, Chui K, Muentener P (2020) BMJ 2020 Jul 22;370 doi: 10.1136/bmj.m2397 

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Objective: To assess the effects of food supplementation on improving working memory and additional measures including cerebral blood flow in children at risk of undernutrition.

Design: Randomized controlled trial.
Setting: 10 villages in Guinea-Bissau.
Participants: 1059 children aged 15 months to 7 years; children younger than 4 were the primary population.
Interventions: Supervised isocaloric servings (≈1300 kJ, five mornings each week, 23 weeks) of a new food supplement (NEWSUP, high in plant polyphenols and omega 3 fatty acids, within a wide variety and high fortification of micronutrients, and a high protein content), or a fortified blended food (FBF) used in nutrition programs, or a control meal (traditional rice breakfast).

Main outcome measurements: The primary outcome was working memory, a core executive function predicting long term academic achievement. Additional outcomes were hemoglobin concentration, growth, body composition, and index of cerebral blood flow (CBFi). In addition to an intention-to-treat analysis, a predefined per protocol analysis was conducted in children who consumed at least 75% of the supplement (820/925, 89%). The primary outcome was assessed by a multivariable Poisson model; other outcomes were assessed by multivariable linear mixed models.

Conclusions: Childhood undernutrition is associated with long term impairment in cognition. Contrary to current understanding, supplementary feeding for 23 weeks could improve executive function, brain health, and nutritional status in vulnerable young children living in low income countries. Further research is needed to optimize nutritional prescriptions for regenerative improvements in cognitive function, and to test effectiveness in other vulnerable groups.


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