Researchers at the University of Bristol have found that mothers-to-be who eat oily fish such as sardines and mackerel have children whose visual development is better.
This positive association was also seen for breastfeeding.
The findings were announced by Dr. Cathy Williams, the eye expert on the Children of the 90s project. This study, based in Bristol, has monitored the health and development of over 14,000 children from pregnancy. A 10% sample of the Children of the 90s children were regularly invited to "Children in Focus" clinics where, among other things, their vision was tested.
Dr. Williams said, "As far as we know this is the first time that diet in pregnancy has been shown to be associated with a child's visual development. Our results suggest that children whose mothers ate oily fish in pregnancy or who were breastfed reach the adult grade of depth perception sooner. Other unpublished data from the Children of the 90s shows a strong association between good depth perception and better mental development".
She added, "We are not suggesting that pregnant women run out to the supermarket and strip the shelves of canned fish, as the women we looked at only ate the fish once a fortnight."
Oily fish is the richest source of DHA, a fatty acid which is an important structural component of neuronal membranes found in the brain. DHA is also present in breast milk but not in standard formula milks.
These results add to the debate about whether formula milks should be fortified with fish oils.
The research team tested the children again when they were seven years of age, looking at the whole sample of the Children of the 90s, at a clinic known as "Focus @ 7" and they hope that further analysis will determine whether the effect they have seen in the three-year-olds will remain at the age of seven.
(Reference: "Stereoacuity at 3.5 years of age in children born full-term is associated with prenatal and postnatal dietary factors: a report from a population based cohort study" C Williams, EE Birch, PM Emmett, K Northstone and the ALSPAC Study Team. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2001.)
Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children
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