Children who eat fish more frequently score higher on IQ tests and get better sleep than those who eat fish less frequently, according to a recent Penn study.

The findings, published in December, showed that the average IQ scores of children who ate fish at least once a week were 4.8 points higher than those of children who rarely ate fish, which is rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

Penn researchers from the School of Nursing as well as the School of Arts and Sciences concluded, after controlling for sociodemographic differences, that consuming fish may lead to less disturbed sleep. This would, in turn, lead to better cognitive functioning.

Previous research has shown a relationship between supplements of omega-3 – the fatty acid found in oily fish – and improved intelligence, as well as a relationship between omega-3 supplements and better sleep. However, the study is the first to connect fish to omega-3's cognitive benefits.  

Lead author of the study and Nursing professor Jianghong Liu suggests that this link is an important step forward in an “emerging” field of research.

“Here we look at omega-3s coming from our food instead of from supplements,” Liu told EurekAlert!.

For the study, 541 Chinese schoolchildren between the ages of nine and 11 took IQ tests and questionnaires about how often they consume fish. Additionally, their parents answered questions about their child’s sleep habits and their family’s demographic information.

Jennifer Pinto-Martin, a Nursing professor and co-author of the study, said that the research contributes to an increasing amount of evidence that shows the positive dietary benefits of fish. She suggests that parents start introducing fish to their children as young as 10 months old.

“Introducing the taste early makes it more palatable,” she said. “Children are sensitive to smell. If they’re not used to it, they may shy away from it.”

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, omega-3s have also been shown to help with rheumatoid arthritis and prevent heart disease.

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