15 September 2021

A new study, from professor Carolina de Weerth, together with Yvonne Willemsen and Roseriet Beijers from the department of Cognitive Neuroscience, in collaboration with Alejandro Arias Vasquez from the department of Psychiatry and Human Genetics, ​investigated whether breastfeeding was related to inhibitory control of 3-year-old children, and whether diet played an intermediate role in this relation. Their study was published in Nutrients on August 10th 2021.

Inhibitory control is the ability to control impulsive behavior. It is important to refrain from eating your entire snacks cupboard for example! People with ADHD and children with problem behavior have lower inhibitory control levels. As inhibitory control develops quickly early in life, they set out to investigate their research question in 3-year-old children. 

This longitudinal study followed 72 families from pregnancy onwards. Questionnaires on breastfeeding practices were filled in at 2, 6 and 12 weeks, and at 12 and 36 months after birth. When the child was 3 years of age, several behavioral tasks were performed and questionnaires were filled in by both parents to determine child inhibitory control. Diet quality at 3 years of age was assessed through three unannounced 24-hour recalls. In these 24-hour recalls, parents were asked to report their child's nutritional intake of the past 24 hours.

The researchers did not find evidence that breastfeeding history is related to inhibitory control in 3-year-old children. Also, diet quality at 3 years of age was not associated with child inhibitory control, and as such, did not mediate the (potential) association between breastfeeding history and inhibitory control. They did find a positive association between breastfeeding duration and diet quality. The current study contributes to the growing body of research on the topic of diet and behavior. Given the results and the inconclusive nature of previous literature, as well as the role of low inhibitory control in child behavior problems, they recommend future studies to continue investigating nutrition and inhibitory control in larger and more diverse groups.


Willemsen Y, Beijers R, Arias Vasquez A, de Weerth C. Do Breastfeeding History and Diet Quality Predict Inhibitory Control at Preschool Age? Nutrients. 2021; 13(8):2752. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13082752

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