University of Oulu

Loukas Zagkos, Fotios Drenos, Pauline Emmett, Alexandra I. Blakemore, Tanja Nordström, Tuula Hurtig, Marjo-Riitta Jarvelin, Terence M. Dovey, Associations of adolescents’ diet and meal patterns with school performance in the Northern Finland Birth Cohort 1986: A Mendelian randomisation study, Appetite, Volume 190, 2023, 107036, ISSN 0195-6663,

Associations of adolescents’ diet and meal patterns with school performance in the Northern Finland Birth Cohort 1986 : a Mendelian randomisation study

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Author: Zagkos, Loukas1,2; Drenos, Fotios1; Emmett, Pauline3;
Organizations: 1Department of Life Sciences, College of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences, Brunel University London, Kingston Lane, Uxbridge, London, UB8 3PH, UK
2Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, School of Public Health, Imperial College London, St Mary's Campus, London, W2 1PG, UK
3Bristol Medical School: Population Health Sciences, University of Bristol, 69 St Michael's Hill, Bristol, BS2 8DZ, UK
4Department of Metabolism, Digestion and Reproduction, Faculty of Medicine, Imperial College London, Hammersmith Campus, Du Cane Road, London, W12 0NN, UK
5Northern Finland Birth Cohorts, Infrastructure for Population Studies, Faculty of Medicine, University of Oulu, Pentti Kaiteran Katu 1, 90570, Oulu, Finland
6Center for Life Course Health Research, Faculty of Medicine, University of Oulu, PO Box 8000, FI-90014, Oulun Yliopisto, Finland
7Medical Research Center Oulu, Oulu University Hospital and University of Oulu, Pentti Kaiteran Katu 1, 90570, Oulu, Finland
8Research Unit of Clinical Neuroscience and PEDEGO Research Unit, University of Oulu, Finland
9Clinic of Child Psychiatry, Oulu University Hospital, 90230, Peltolantie 13-15, 90210, Oulu, Finland
10Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, MRC-PHE Centre for Environment and Health, School of Public Health, Imperial College London, St Mary's Campus, London, W2 1PG, UK
11Unit of Primary Health Care, Oulu University Hospital, OYS, Kajaanintie 50, 90220, Oulu, Finland
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 2.1 MB)
Persistent link:
Language: English
Published: Elsevier, 2023
Publish Date: 2023-10-30


Background: Several observational studies indicate that dietary habits in children and adolescents are associated with school performance. These associations are heavily confounded by socio-economic characteristics, such as household income and parents’ educational attainment, amongst other factors. The objective of this study was to explore the association between diet and school performance in adolescents from the Northern Finland Birth Cohort 1986 (NFBC1986).

Methods: Dietary and school performance data were collected using self-reported questionnaires from adolescents in the NFBC1986 cross-sectional, 16-year follow-up study. In this work we derived exploratory factors for the dietary variables, frequency of skipping main meals and school performance variables, performed genome-wide association studies (GWAS) against these factors to obtain genetic association data and conducted one-sample and two-sample Mendelian randomisation (MR) analyses using individual level data for up to 9220 adolescents in NFBC1986 and GWAS results from external cohorts. We report observational and MR effects of diet on school performance and cognition-related phenotypes.

Results: The observational study and the one-sample Mendelian randomisation analysis showed that high fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) consumption was associated with poor school performance in general/science subjects (−0.080, −0.128 to −0.033) and staple food consumption with better school performance in general/science subjects (0.071, 0.024 to 0.119) and physical education (0.065, 0.021 to 0.110). Findings from our two-sample MR analysis identified dietary principal components described best as whole brain bread, wheat, cheese, oat cereal and red wine to be associated with higher educational attainment and other cognition-related phenotypes.

Conclusion: Using genetics, we highlighted the potential role of HFSS food consumption and consumption of the components of a staple food diet for school performance. However, further research is required to find conclusive evidence that could support a causal role of diet on school performance.

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Series: Appetite
ISSN: 0195-6663
ISSN-E: 1095-8304
ISSN-L: 0195-6663
Volume: 190
Article number: 107036
DOI: 10.1016/j.appet.2023.107036
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 3123 Gynaecology and paediatrics
3141 Health care science
Funding: This work was supported by the Waterloo foundation [to L.Z., F.D., T.D.]. The funders were not involved in the analysis and interpretation of the data; in the writing of the report; or in the decision to submit the paper for publication. The NFBC1986 genetic data generation and dietary data collection was supported by NIMH (MH063706, Smalley and Järvelin), the European Commission (EURO-BLCS, Framework 5 award QLG1-CT-2000-01643, coordinator: Järvelin) and Academy of Finland (EGEA-project nro 285547), and is currently funded by the Joint Programming Initiative a Healthy Diet for a Healthy Life (EU JPI HDHL) (proposal number 655), with joint funding by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) [MR/S03658X/1].
Academy of Finland Grant Number: 285547
Detailed Information: 285547 (Academy of Finland Funding decision)
Copyright information: © 2023 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (