Happy, educated moms key to smarter kids!

Kuala Lumpur, Jan 17 (PTI): Early life nurturing, happy moms, and educated parents may be the essential ingredients in the recipe for smarter kids, scientists have claimed. They also found that mothers who take multi-micronutrient supplements during pregnancy can add the equivalent of up to one full year of schooling to a child's cognitive abilities at age nine to 12.

Researchers, including those from Summit Institute of Development in Indonesia and Harvard T H Chan School of Public Health in the US, found that child's nurturing environment is more strongly correlated than biological factors to brain and memory development along with general intellectual ability and socio-emotional health. Between 2012 and 2014, researchers tested extensively almost 3,000 school children, then nine to 12 years old, whose mothers had participated in an earlier study into the effects of consuming either multiple micronutrient (MMN) supplements or standard iron-folic acid (IFA) supplements during pregnancy.

In the earlier study conducted between 2001 and 2004, half of the 31,290 participating Indonesian mothers consumed MMN supplements; the other half received IFA supplements. The MMN supplements were similar to the pre-natal multivitamin supplements consumed by many women in Canada, the US and other countries during pregnancy.

The latest follow-up study showed impressive long-term benefits to children whose mothers took MMN supplements, including better "procedural memory" equivalent to the increase in score typical after an additional half-year of schooling. The procedural memory is tied to the learning of new skills and the processing of established perceptual, motor, and cognitive skills.

Procedural memory is important for a child's academic performance and daily life and is tied to activities such as driving, typing, reading, arithmetic, reading, speaking and understanding language and learning sequences, rules and categories. Children of anemic mothers in the MMN group scored substantially higher in general intellectual ability, a difference comparable to the increase associated with an additional full year of schooling.

Biological factors such as maternal nutritional status during pregnancy, low infant birth weight, premature birth, poor infant physical growth and nutritional status at follow-up were not as strongly linked to cognitive ability as the socio-environmental factors assessed during the study: home environment, maternal depression, parental education and socio-economic status.

This suggests that current public health programs focused only on biological factors may not sufficiently enhance child cognition and that programs addressing socio-environmental factors are essential to achieve thriving populations, according to the study. The study appears in the journal Lancet Global Health. 

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