Child in front of vegetable dish.

(© karelnoppe -

BARCELONA, Spain — Organic food may be the key to good grades for young children everywhere, according to a new study. Researchers in Spain say they have found a connection between what’s in a child’s diet and how well they perform on tests which challenge their problem-solving skills and memory.

Specifically, a team from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health says consuming more organic foods results in more cognitive development among school-age children. Moreover, eating fast food, living in a crowded home, and exposure to tobacco smoke lowered scores which measure intelligence.

“Healthy diets, including organic diets, are richer than fast food diets in nutrients necessary for the brain, such as fatty acids, vitamins and antioxidants, which together may enhance cognitive function in childhood,” says lead author Jordi Júlvez, a researcher with the Pere Virgili Health Research Institute, in a media release.

The study of nearly 1,300 children between six and 11 years-old examined 87 different environmental factors these children were exposed to while in their mother’s womb. It also looked at another 122 factors they encountered during childhood. These include everything from air pollution, to noise, to various lifestyle conditions.

Results show the greatest positive influence on fluid intelligence (or problem-solving skills) and working memory appears to be consuming an organic diet. Other factors noticeably influencing childhood intelligence include fast food consumption, crowdedness in the family home, indoor air pollution, and tobacco smoke.

“In our study we found better scores in fluid intelligence and working memory with higher organic food intake and lower fast food intake,” Júlvez explains.

Cigarette smoke hurts cognitive development

Study authors also discovered that tobacco smoke and a type of air pollution called fine particulate matter (PM2.5) negatively impacts a child’s intelligence. Their findings show these pollutants trigger inflammatory reactions in the brain, leading to poorer cognitive development. Interestingly, researchers say exposure to tobacco smoke may actually have a connection to family income and the choices they make.

“The number of people living together in a home is often an indicator of the family’s economic status, and that contexts of poverty favor less healthy lifestyles, which in turn may affect children’s cognitive test scores,” Júlvez explains.

Along with school performance, the team also says all of these factors play a role in how children interact with others.

“We observed that several prenatal environmental pollutants (indoor air pollution and tobacco smoke) and lifestyle habits during childhood (diet, sleep and family social capital) were associated with behavioral problems in children,” adds Martine Vrijheid, head of ISGlobal’s Childhood and Environment program.

“One of the strengths of this study on cognition and the earlier study on behavioral problems is that we systematically analyzed a much wider range of exposure biomarkers in blood and urine to determine the internal levels in the model and that we analyzed both prenatal and childhood exposure variables,” Vrijheid concludes.

The study appears in the journal Environmental Pollution.

About Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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