An Overview on the Associations between Health Behaviors and Brain Health in Children and Adolescents with Special Reference to Diet Quality

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Feb 4;17(3):953. doi: 10.3390/ijerph17030953.


Unhealthy diet has been associated with overweight, obesity, increased cardiometabolic risk, and recently, to impaired cognition and academic performance. The aim of this review is to provide an overview of the associations between health behaviors and cognition and academic achievement in children and adolescents under 18 years of age with a special reference to diet quality. Dietary patterns with a low consumption of fish, fruits, and vegetables, and high in fast food, sausages, and soft drinks have been linked to poor cognition and academic achievement. The studies on the associations between the high intake of saturated fat and red meat and low intake of fiber and high-fiber grain products with cognition are limited. The available evidence and physiological mechanisms suggest that diet may have direct, indirect, and synergistic effects on brain and cognition with physical activity, sedentary behaviors, cardiometabolic health, and sleep, but the associations have been modest. Therefore, integrating a healthy diet, physically active lifestyle, and adequate sleep may provide optimal circumstances for brain development and learning. We conclude that most of the existing literature is contained in cross-sectional studies, which therefore highlights the need for longitudinal and intervention studies on the effects of diet, physical activity, sedentary behavior, and sleep on cognition and academic performance.

Keywords: adolescents; brain; brain health; children; cognition; diet quality; health behaviors; learning; lifestyles; nutrition.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Academic Performance*
  • Adolescent
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Carbonated Beverages
  • Child
  • Cognition*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diet*
  • Exercise
  • Fast Foods
  • Fruit
  • Health Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Life Style
  • Obesity
  • Sedentary Behavior
  • Sleep
  • Vegetables