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



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.

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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.

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Correspondence to Eero A. Haapala.

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Haapala, E.A., Eloranta, AM., Venäläinen, T. et al. Diet quality and academic achievement: a prospective study among primary school children. Eur J Nutr 56, 2299–2308 (2017).

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  • Diet quality
  • Diet
  • Children
  • Brain
  • Learning
  • Academic achievement