How does the early diet affect the child’s mental health and personality?

In a child’s life, the period from conception to two years of age is crucial for growth and development. In addition to the development of vital organs and regulatory systems, this stage also determines a child’s personality, mental health, and social and emotional development. Hence, optimum food must be provided during pregnancy and the first years of a child’s life.

The study: Diet in early life is associated with children’s mental health and personality at 8 years: results from the Norwegian Mother, Father and Child Study (MoBa). Image credit: gpointstudio/Shutterstock


The main factors affecting the early stage of life are nutrition and upbringing. Initially, nutrition is provided through formula milk or breast milk and later by nutritious foods, thus affecting the physiological development of the child. Iron, iodine, and long-chain fatty acids have all been identified as essential for normal brain development. Therefore, a deficiency of these components in the above-mentioned critical phase may lead to irreversible damage to perceptual and neuromotor development.

Feeding a baby is an important interactive event associated with a baby’s social and emotional development. Typically, the child imitates the caregiver and the family and acquires important skills throughout his life.

Similar to any non-communicable disease, a child may develop depression and anxiety at an early age. These mental health conditions are most often found in children ages 5 to 9. It has been observed that nutritional deficiencies early in life make a child vulnerable to mental health conditions. The mother’s diet has also been linked to mental health conditions (eg, ADHD) and the neurodevelopment of the offspring.

Typically, personality traits are presented as five different traits that include conscientiousness, imagination, extraversion, neuroticism, and benevolence. These personality traits are referred to as the Big Five personality traits. Few studies have analyzed the relationship between diet in early childhood and later mental health status.

newly Nutrients The study investigated the relationship between the mother and child’s diet and the child’s personality traits and mental health, namely depression and anxiety.

about studying

The authors of the current study have previously developed a New Nordic Diet (NND) score, which helps determine the level of adherence to a healthy, sustainable dietary pattern. The current study is based on data obtained from the Medical Register of Births in Norway (MBRN) and the Norwegian Mother, Father and Child Study (MoBa).

MoBa is a prospective population-based pregnancy cohort study that recruited participants from 1999 to 2008. This cohort included approximately 114,500 children, 95,200 mothers, and 75,200 fathers. All participants who completed the primary questionnaire, that is, the food frequency questionnaire (FFQ), around gestational week 17, were included in the study. Another inclusion criterion was that the mothers answered the specific questionnaire when the child was eight years old.


A total of 40,566 mother-child pairs were included in the current study who answered questionnaires at different periods, that is, when the child was six months, 18 months, three years, seven years, and eight years old. Based on MoBa data, this study established a strong association between diet early in life and the Big Five personality traits.

In addition, the relationship between early childhood diet and mental health conditions, particularly anxiety and depression in late childhood, was investigated. It was observed that children who were exposed to a less healthy and sustainable diet in early life were prone to psychological symptoms at a later stage.

During pregnancy, maternal adherence to NND was associated with lower scores on a depression scale when the child was eight years old. However, no significant association with anxiety was observed. A healthy, sustainable diet for the mother was linked with higher scores in conscientiousness, extraversion, benevolence, and imagination, and lower scores in neuroticism.

The current study revealed that early childhood diet at six months, 18 months, and three and seven years of age was associated with the incidence of anxiety and depression symptoms at eight years of age. However, compared to the diet at the early ages, the diet at the ages of three and seven was found to play a more active role in the occurrence of anxiety and depression in the child.

Points of strength and weakness

One of the main strengths of the study is the analysis of a large, well-described, population-based birth cohort, which presents the possibility of adapting to potential confounders. In addition, the tool used to assess the child’s mental health and personality traits is reliable and valid.

The current study also has some limitations, including self-reported data for analysis. In addition, all participating mothers were non-smokers, older, and regular users of multivitamins and folic acid supplements. Therefore, it is not representative of the general population. The authors indicated that the questions about the child’s diet were less detailed than the mothers’ questionnaire.


The current study emphasized the importance of diet during pregnancy as well as diet in early childhood on the mental health of the child, namely the occurrence of anxiety, depression and personality development. To date, no study has reported a relationship between diet in early life and the Big Five personality traits.

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