Effects of diet on behaviour and cognition in children

Br J Nutr. 2004 Oct:92 Suppl 2:S227-32. doi: 10.1079/bjn20041171.


Diet can affect cognitive ability and behaviour in children and adolescents. Nutrient composition and meal pattern can exert immediate or long-term, beneficial or adverse effects. Beneficial effects mainly result from the correction of poor nutritional status. For example, thiamin treatment reverses aggressiveness in thiamin-deficient adolescents. Deleterious behavioural effects have been suggested; for example, sucrose and additives were once suspected to induce hyperactivity, but these effects have not been confirmed by rigorous investigations. In spite of potent biological mechanisms that protect brain activity from disruption, some cognitive functions appear sensitive to short-term variations of fuel (glucose) availability in certain brain areas. A glucose load, for example, acutely facilitates mental performance, particularly on demanding, long-duration tasks. The mechanism of this often described effect is not entirely clear. One aspect of diet that has elicited much research in young people is the intake/omission of breakfast. This has obvious relevance to school performance. While effects are inconsistent in well-nourished children, breakfast omission deteriorates mental performance in malnourished children. Even intelligence scores can be improved by micronutrient supplementation in children and adolescents with very poor dietary status. Overall, the literature suggests that good regular dietary habits are the best way to ensure optimal mental and behavioural performance at all times. Then, it remains controversial whether additional benefit can be gained from acute dietary manipulations. In contrast, children and adolescents with poor nutritional status are exposed to alterations of mental and/or behavioural functions that can be corrected, to a certain extent, by dietary measures.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior*
  • Adolescent Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Child
  • Child Behavior*
  • Child Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Cognition*
  • Diet*
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology
  • Feeding Behavior / psychology
  • Food Additives / administration & dosage
  • Glucose / administration & dosage
  • Humans
  • Intelligence
  • Psychology, Adolescent
  • Psychology, Child
  • Vitamins / physiology


  • Food Additives
  • Vitamins
  • Glucose