Using cross-sectional data from the Third National Health and Nutrition Survey, 1988-1994, we examined whether dietary fat intake is associated with cognitive and psychosocial functioning in school-aged children.

Based upon 24-h diet recall interviews, dietary intakes of total fat, SFA, monounsaturated fatty, PUFAs, and cholesterol were estimated in 3666 participants aged 6 to 16 y. Psychosocial functioning was evaluated in interviews of each child's mother.

Cognitive functioning was measured using achievement and intelligence tests. Overall, total fat and saturated fat were unrelated to measures of cognitive and psychosocial functioning. Compared with equivalent energy intake from saturated fat or carbohydrate, each 5% increase in energy intake from PUFAs was associated with lower risks of poor performance on the digit span test (replacing SFA, OR = 0.58, 95% CI = 0.37-0.91; replacing carbohydrate, OR = 0.61, 95% CI = 0.43-0.88). Cholesterol intake was associated with an increased risk of poor performance on the digit span test (OR = 1.25, 95% CI = 1.11-1.42 for each 100-mg increment intake of cholesterol). The associations were independent of socioeconomic status, maternal education and marital status, and children's nutrition status and were consistent across different methods of energy adjustment in regression models.

We conclude that high intake of PUFAs may contribute to an improved performance on the digit span test. In contrast, increased intake of cholesterol may be associated with a poorer performance.

PMID: 16046724