B4135 - The role of maternal and childhood diet and nutrition in the development of childhood ADHD and impaired cognitive ability - 26/08/2022

B number: 
Principal applicant name: 
Seif Shaheen | Queen Mary University of London
Professor Amanda Waterman, Dr Evie Stergiakouli, Dr Pauline Emmett
Title of project: 
The role of maternal and childhood diet and nutrition in the development of childhood ADHD and impaired cognitive ability
Proposal summary: 

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is the commonest neurodevelopmental disorder of childhood, but its causes are largely unknown. Symptoms include inattention and forgetfulness, as well as hyperactivity and impulsiveness. More generally, sub-optimal cognitive development (difficulty processing thoughts, remembering, and problem solving) in childhood is associated with lower educational attainment and poorer life chances. There are clues that a poor diet in pregnancy may increase the risk of a child developing ADHD and cognitive difficulties, but the evidence is patchy and inconsistent, and sometimes based on small studies. Also, the role of childhood diet has been little studied, and we do not know whether effects of early nutrition on these conditions depend on genetic make-up.

We will investigate whether a poor diet in pregnancy and childhood is associated with a higher risk of developing ADHD and lower cognitive ability in childhood, and a healthier diet is associated with a lower risk, after allowing for background factors. We will also see whether effects of early diet and nutrition on risk of these conditions depends on the genetic make-up of the mother and/or the child. ALSPAC has all the data we need to investigate these hypotheses to a high standard. We are particularly interested in the role of healthy versus unhealthy dietary patterns, various foods (fruit, vegetables, oily fish), sugar, and specific nutrients including vitamins, folic acid, omega-3 fatty acids and choline. We will also analyse associations with blood vitamin D levels in pregnancy and childhood.

Impact of research: 
This project will provide important evidence on the role that poorer nutrition in pregnancy and childhood plays in the development of ADHD and impaired cognitive function in children. Our results could lead to a trial in pregnancy aimed at preventing ADHD and improving cognitive ability in the offspring by improving maternal diet and nutrition. Such a trial might be targeted at women with a particular genetic make-up, to maximise beneficial effects on the child. Ultimately this research could influence policy and lead to a reduction in ADHD and impaired cognitive function in the population. Results will be presented at an international conference by the early career researcher who will do the statistical analyses, and will be published in leading journals.
Date proposal received: 
Wednesday, 24 August, 2022
Date proposal approved: 
Friday, 26 August, 2022
Epidemiology, Developmental disorders - autism, Statistical methods, Nutrition - breast feeding, diet