European Journal of Nutrition

, Volume 56, Issue 7, pp 2299–2308 | Cite as

Diet quality and academic achievement: a prospective study among primary school children

  • Eero A. HaapalaEmail author
  • Aino-Maija Eloranta
  • Taisa Venäläinen
  • Henna Jalkanen
  • Anna-Maija Poikkeus
  • Timo Ahonen
  • Virpi Lindi
  • Timo A. Lakka
Original Contribution



Poor diet quality may impair academic achievement in children, but such evidence is limited. Therefore, we investigated the associations of healthy diet in Grade 1 assessed by Mediterranean Diet Score (MDS), Baltic Sea Diet Score (BSDS), and Finnish Children Healthy Eating Index (FCHEI) with academic achievement in Grades 1–3 in children.


The participants were 161 Finnish children who were 6–8 years old in Grade 1 and attended in a large ongoing physical activity and dietary intervention study. Dietary factors were assessed using 4-day food records, and MDS, BSDS, and FCHEI were calculated. Academic achievement was assessed by reading fluency, reading comprehension, and arithmetic skill tests. The data were analyzed using linear regression analysis and analysis of covariance adjusted for age, sex, parental education, household income, body fat percentage, physical activity, the PANIC Study group, and total energy intake.


MDS was positively associated with reading comprehension in Grade 3 (standardized regression coefficient β = 0.167, P = 0.032). BSDS was positively associated with reading fluency in Grades 2–3 and reading comprehension in Grades 1–3 (β = 0.161–0.274, P < 0.05). FCHEI was positively related to reading fluency in Grades 1–2 and reading comprehension in Grades 1–3 (β = 0.190–0.344, P < 0.05). Children in the highest third of BSDS and FCHEI had better reading fluency and reading comprehension in Grades 1–3 than children in the lowest third (P < 0.05). None of the diet scores was associated with arithmetic skills.


Healthier diet assessed by BSDS or FCHEI in Grade 1 was associated with better reading skills, but not with arithmetic skills, among children in Grades 1–3. Long-term intervention studies are needed to investigate the effects of improvements in diet quality on academic achievement among children.

Clinical trial registration Identifier: NCT01803776.


Diet quality Diet Children Brain Learning Academic achievement 



Ministry of Social Affairs and Health of Finland, Ministry of Education and Culture of Finland, University of Eastern Finland, Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra, Social Insurance Institution of Finland, Finnish Cultural Foundation, Juho Vainio Foundation, Foundation for Pediatric Research, Paavo Nurmi Foundation, Paulo Foundation, Diabetes Research Foundation, Research Committee of the Kuopio University Hospital Catchment Area (State Research Funding) and Kuopio University Hospital (EVO Funding Number 5031343), Päivikki and Sakari Sohlberg Foundation, City of Kuopio, Jenny & Antti Wihuri Foundation.

Author's contribution

EAH, AME, AMP, VL, and TAL designed the research; AME, TV, VL, AMP, TA, and TAL conducted the research; EAH analyzed the data; EAH, AME, TV, AMP, TA, HJ, VL, and TAL wrote the manuscript; and EAH, AME, and TAL had primary responsibility for the final content of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final version of the manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Eero A. Haapala
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Aino-Maija Eloranta
    • 1
  • Taisa Venäläinen
    • 1
    • 3
  • Henna Jalkanen
    • 1
  • Anna-Maija Poikkeus
    • 4
  • Timo Ahonen
    • 5
  • Virpi Lindi
    • 1
  • Timo A. Lakka
    • 1
    • 6
    • 7
  1. 1.Institute of Biomedicine/Physiology, School of MedicineUniversity of Eastern FinlandKuopioFinland
  2. 2.Childhoold Health and Active Living Research Group, Department of Biology of Physical ActivityUniversity of JyväskyläJyväskyläFinland
  3. 3.Institute of Public Health and Clinical Nutrition, School of MedicineUniversity of Eastern FinlandKuopioFinland
  4. 4.Department of Teacher EducationUniversity of JyväskyläJyväskyläFinland
  5. 5.Department of PsychologyUniversity of JyväskyläJyväskyläFinland
  6. 6.Department of Clinical Physiology and Nuclear MedicineKuopio University Hospital and University of Eastern FinlandKuopioFinland
  7. 7.Kuopio Research Institute of Exercise MedicineKuopioFinland

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