Impaired IQ and academic skills in adults who experienced moderate to severe infantile malnutrition: a 40-year study

Nutr Neurosci. 2014 Feb;17(2):58-64. doi: 10.1179/1476830513Y.0000000061. Epub 2013 Nov 26.


Objectives: To evaluate IQ and academic skills in adults who experienced an episode of moderate-to-severe infantile malnutrition and a healthy control group, all followed since childhood in the Barbados Nutrition Study.

Methods: IQ and academic skills were assessed in 77 previously malnourished adults (mean age = 38.4 years; 53% male) and 59 controls (mean age = 38.1 years; 54% male). Group comparisons were carried out by multiple regression and logistic regression, adjusted for childhood socioeconomic factors.

Results: The previously malnourished group showed substantial deficits on all outcomes relative to healthy controls (P < 0.0001). IQ scores in the intellectual disability range (< 70) were nine times more prevalent in the previously malnourished group (odds ratio = 9.18; 95% confidence interval = 3.50-24.13). Group differences in IQ of approximately one standard deviation were stable from adolescence through mid-life.

Discussion: Moderate-to-severe malnutrition during infancy is associated with a significantly elevated incidence of impaired IQ in adulthood, even when physical growth is completely rehabilitated. An episode of malnutrition during the first year of life carries risk for significant lifelong functional morbidity.

Keywords: Academic achievement; IQ; Malnutrition; Socioeconomic.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Barbados / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Nutrition Disorders / complications*
  • Intellectual Disability / epidemiology
  • Intellectual Disability / etiology*
  • Intelligence Tests
  • Learning Disabilities / epidemiology
  • Learning Disabilities / etiology*
  • Male
  • Socioeconomic Factors