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Bad Nutrition, Bad Behavior

One of my biggest pet peeves about the childhood obesity epidemic is how easily it can be treated, merely by curbing your kid's TV time and avoiding trips to fat-filled, fast food restaurants. A new study has discovered such nutritional neglect can create problems for children for years to come.

Nutritional deficiencies early in the lives of children may predispose them to behavioral problems into their teens, according to a study of some 1,600 children from Mauritius, an island in the Indian Ocean.

Poor early-life nutrition may cause deficits in brain function that predispose children to problems such as hyperactivity and aggression later on. The signs of malnutrition in children at age 3 were more likely to show up in various behavioral problems at the ages of 8, 11 and 17. At age 3, the malnourished children had signs of deficiencies in protein, iron, zinc and certain B vitamins -- nutrients vital to healthy brain development.

Children who were malnourished early in life were more likely than their peers to act out at school, break rules, get into fights or have other behavioral problems as they grew older too. Unlike societal ills such as poverty, poor housing and their parents' lack of education that were typically associated with malnutrition, lower IQ scores were actually a key indicator.

ABC News December 1, 2004

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