Study Links Healthy Eating and Reading Skills

By Amanda Royce, UNH Cooperative Extension 4-H Program Coordinator

When you think of healthy eating, you probably think about good clean foods that give you the nutrients you need to maintain your health, feel good and have energy. You might think of healthy weight and an overall positive outlook on life. But have you ever associated healthy eating with better reading skills? A recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition has found a link between healthy eating and increased reading skills in youth.

Researchers in Finland followed 161 children aged 6-8 years old from first grade to third grade. The quality of their diet was analyzed using food diaries and their academic skills by using standardized tests. The study followed a Finnish and Baltic Sea Diet that recommended more fruits, fish, vegetables, whole grains and unsaturated fats, and focused on decreasing red meat, sugar and saturated fats. The study showed that youth in grades 1-3 who followed the above diet had higher tests scores in reading than their peers who did not follow the healthier diet.  “Another significant observation is that the association of diet quality with reading skills were also independent of many confounding factors, such as socio-economic status, physical activity, body adiposity, and physical fitness,” says Eero Haapala, PhD, a researcher from the University of Eastern Finland and the University of Jyväskylä.

As you look at this diet there isn’t much difference in the food that is recommended for youth in the U.S. If you promote healthy meals for youth and limit the processed foods high in sugar and fat, youths’ reading levels should increase as well. Regardless, feeding your child something healthy daily will lead to lifelong health benefits and, increase their reading the first three years of their life.

To learn more about Carroll County 4-H, contact Amanda Royce, 4-H Program Coordinator, Youth and Family, UNH Cooperative Extension at (603) 447-3834 or email