Author: jruhe

Prado and colleagues examine associations between maternal nutrition, maternal cognition, and caregiving in Malawi

Many pregnant women, especially first-time mothers, spend time learning new information about how to care for themselves during pregnancy and planning for caring for their newborn child. After giving  birth, mothers are constantly trying to figure out the puzzle of what their infant is trying to communicate to them and how they can best care for their babies’ needs. Mothers need optimal cognitive performance, such as the ability to focus and pay attention, memory, and reasoning to do this well, and adequate nutrient intake is necessary for the brain to perform these skills. Women require higher amounts of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients in their diet during pregnancy and postpartum, and many women are at risk for nutrient deficiencies during these periods. Very few studies have examined whether nutrient deficiency might impair maternal cognition and caregiving.

In a randomized trial in Malawi, Prado and colleagues measured differences in cognitive performance and caregiving behavior between women who had received three different types of nutritional supplements over a one-year period from early pregnancy through six months postpartum.  They found that women who received multiple micronutrients or lipid‐based nutrient supplements, compared to iron and folic acid, did not have higher scores in attention, executive function, reasoning, functional health literacy, or  caregiving behavior, as measured in this study. However, in some subgroups of women with baseline low hemoglobin, poor iron status, or malaria women who received lipid-based nutrient supplements scored higher in executive function. Breastmilk docosahexaenoic acid and Vitamin B12 concentrations were associated with attention and executive function, suggesting that these may be key nutrients to optimize cognitive function in postpartum women.


Prado EL, Ashorn U, Phuka J, Maleta K, Sadalaki J, Oaks BM, Haskell M, Allen LH, Vosti Steve A, Dewey KG. Associations of maternal nutrition during pregnancy and post-partum with maternal cognition and caregiving. Maternal & Child Nutrition. 2 NOV 2017, DOI: 10.1111/mcn.12546

Read the Article

Ocansey awarded the Society for Research in Child Development Patrice L Engle dissertation grant for global early child development

The Patrice L. Engle Dissertation Grant provides support for students interested in a career in global early child development who are from or doing research in low- or middle-income countries. Eugenia Maku Ocansey was awarded this grant for her dissertation project “Assessing developmental outcomes at preschool age following three micronutrient supplementation strategies for pregnant and lactating women and their infants in Ghana.”

While adequate nutrition is necessary for the rapid brain development that occurs during gestation and the first 2 years of life (the first 1000 days), and many pregnant women and children across the globe are at risk for nutrient deficiencies during this period, few randomized controlled trials of nutritional supplementation during both pre- and post-natal periods have assessed long-term cognitive development. For her dissertation research, Ocansey is leading the developmental assessments in the pre-school follow-up study of the International Lipid-Based Nutrient Supplements (iLiNS) Project DYAD trial in Ghana, which provided lipid-based nutrient supplements to women during pregnancy and their children from six to 18 months. This project will enable the examination of long-term cognitive effects of supplementation with micronutrients, protein, and fatty acids during most of the first 1000 days.





Prado lead author on paper identifying six key factors that predict early child development

As countries mobilize to reach Sustainable Development Goal 4.2, to ensure “access to quality early childhood development” (ECD), evidence is needed to inform the design of interventions. Previous reviews have identified 44 risk factors for poor ECD in low- and middle-income countries. Which of these factors are most important for strategic targeting to maximize the likelihood of making a difference?

Prado and collaborators on the International Lipid-Based Nutrient Supplements (iLiNS) Project had a unique opportunity to answer this question in the most comprehensive dataset that has examined this question to date. In four cohorts totaling 4205 children in Malawi, Ghana, and Burkina Faso, data were available on 22 of the 44 risk factors identified in previous reviews, plus 12 additional factors likely to be associated with ECD.

Six factors were consistently associated with language and/or motor development at age 18 months in 3 or 4 cohorts: children’s variety of play materials, activities with caregivers, dietary diversity, linear and ponderal growth, and hemoglobin/iron status. These are likely to be key factors for targeted interventions to enhance child development. Among factors that were only measured in one or two cohorts, factors that were associated with language development were maternal cognition, 6-mo home stimulation, and frequency of child feeding, while factors that were associated with motor development were maternal health literacy, maternal and child basal cortisol, 18-mo inflammation, and 18-mo physical activity, suggesting that these are important factors for further research.

At age 18 months, children from low socio-economic status (SES) households had fallen behind those from higher-SES households in language development in all four cohorts and in motor development in two cohorts, highlighting the importance of child development interventions targeting this early period. Associations between SES and language development were largely mediated by caregiving practices rather than maternal or child bio-medical conditions, suggesting that interventions to reduce socioeconomic disparities in child development should target caregiving behavior.


Prado, E. L., Abbeddou, S., Adu-Afarwuah, S., Arimond, M., Ashorn, P., Ashorn, U., Bendabenda, J., Brown, K. H., Hess, S. Y., Kortekangas, E., Lartey, A., Maleta, K., Oaks, B., Ocansey, E., Okronipa, H., Ouédraogo, J. B., Pulakka, A., Somé, J., Stewart, C., Stewart, R., Vosti, S. A., Yakes Jimenez, E., Dewey, K. G. (2017). Predictors and pathways of language and motor development in four large prospective cohorts of young children in Ghana, Malawi, and Burkina Faso. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. (Epub ahead of print).

Prado lead author on paper showing impact of prenatal vitamins on cognitive development in children

Multivitamins And Early Nurturing Boost Child Development

By Pat Bailey, UC Davis News

For all the moms who obediently popped their prenatal vitamins during pregnancy while  wondering if the supplements could actually benefit their babies, an international research group has the answer, and it’s a resounding “yes.”

In fact, in a recent study the researchers discovered children whose mothers took multi-micronutrient supplements during pregnancy were advanced in cognitive abilities by as much as one full year of schooling by age 9-12 years.

The study, conducted in Indonesia and published Jan. 16 in the journal Lancet Global Health, also indicated that other essential ingredients in the recipe for smarter kids include early-life nurturing, happy moms, and educated parents.

And it showed that that a child’s nurturing environment is more strongly correlated than biological factors to brain development and general intellectual ability, memory, executive function, academic achievement, fine motor dexterity, and socio-emotional health.

“Previous studies had hinted at the importance of social determinants, but it was the extent of our detailed cognitive assessments and the number of children tested —together with data from the pregnancy onward — that enabled us to clearly quantify the effects, and the results were surprising,” said the study’s lead author, Elizabeth Prado, a researcher in the UC Davis Program in International and Community Nutrition.

This suggests that current public health programs focused only on biological factors may not sufficiently enhance child cognition, and that programs addressing socio-environmental factors are essential to achieve thriving populations, the researchers reported.

Indonesia-based study

Between 2012 and 2014, the researchers extensively tested almost 3,000 Indonesian school children, then 9 to 12 years old, whose mothers had participated in an earlier study of the effects of consuming either multiple micronutrient supplements or standard iron-folic acid supplements during pregnancy. Those multiple micronutrient supplements were similar to the pre-natal multivitamin supplements consumed by many women in Canada, the United States and other countries during pregnancy.

The study revealed impressive long-term benefits to children whose mothers took multiple micronutrient supplements, including better “procedural memory” equivalent to the typical increase achieved after an additional half-year of schooling.

Procedural memory is tied to learning new skills and processing various types of established skills. It’s important for a child’s academic performance and daily life, and is tied to activities such as driving; typing; reading; arithmetic; reading; speaking and understanding language; and learning sequences, rules, and categories.

Furthermore, children of anemic mothers receiving the multiple micronutrient supplements scored substantially higher in general intellectual ability than their counterparts whose moms received the other supplements. The difference in scores between these two groups was comparable to the increase associated with an additional full year of schooling.

Socio-environmental factors surprisingly important

The researchers also were impressed and surprised by the strength of the relationship between cognitive abilities and early life social and environmental conditions.

Biological factors such as maternal nutritional status during pregnancy, low infant birth weight, premature birth, poor infant physical growth and nutritional status at follow-up were not as strongly linked to cognitive ability as were the socio-environmental factors assessed during the study. Those factors included the home environment, maternal depression, parental education and socio-economic status.

Collaborators and funding

The study was funded by the Government of Canada through Grand Challenges Canada’s Saving Brains program.

It was conducted by an international group of researchers, led by the Summit Institute of Development of Indonesia. In addition to the institute and UC Davis, other collaborators were the Center for Research on Language and Culture at the University of Mataram in Indonesia, Harvard University’s T.H.  Chan School of Public Health; Georgetown University in Washington D.C.; the University of Lancaster in England; and Deakin University in Australia.

Pat Bailey writes about nutrition, agricultural and veterinary sciences for UC Davis Strategic Communications. Follow her on Twitter @UCDavis_Bailey.




Elizabeth Prado, Ph.D.
Assistant Project Scientist, Department of Nutrition
Program in International & Community Nutrition
(530) 752-1992

Prado speaks at UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain Summit Series on Nutrition and the Developing Mind

Dr. Prado is included in the UC Davis speakers who presented at the recent Center for Mind and Brain Summit Series on Nutrition and the Developing Mind.

The CMB Summit Series is an annual workshop designed to bring top scholars to UC Davis to discuss an important, emerging aspect of minds and brains. Dr. Prado presented on “Nutrition and brain development in early life in low-and middle-income countries.”

© 2024 Trellis Lab

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑