More reasons to feed your kids fish: It helps them sleep better and nourishes their nervous system, study finds

Children who eat fish at least once a week have higher intelligence quotients (IQs) and enjoy better sleep. This was the conclusion that researchers from the University of Pennsylvania came to in their study, reported the The study is the first of its kind to connect fish consumption to improved cognition and sleep.

As part of their research, the team analyzed a sample of 541 children from the China Jintan Cohort Study, who were between the ages of nine to 12 years old. The children were tasked with completing a questionnaire on how often they’d eaten fish in the last month. After this, they took the Chinese version of the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-Revised, a general intelligence test intended to measure the cognitive abilities of children. Each child had to undergo six verbal subtests and six non-verbal subtests that assessed their vocabulary, arithmetic skills, and coding capabilities, among others.

The children’s parents became involved in the study as well. Specifically, the parents were given the standardized Children Sleep Habits Questionnaire, which covered such questions as daytime sleepiness and sleep duration. In addition, the researchers also took into consideration covariates like the parents’ educational attainment, occupations, and marital status when scrutinizing their gathered data.

After analysis, the team found that the children who consumed fish on weekly scored 4.8 points higher on the IQ tests than the participants who reportedly never or rarely ate seafood. Furthermore, these same children were said to have fewer sleep disturbances, which was noted for being indicative of better sleep quality. Even the children who only ate fish two to three times a month fared well in comparison to the others, as they scored 3.31 points more. (Related: Fish Oils Boost Intelligence Scores of Teenage Boys.)

Speaking of her team’s findings, Jennifer Pinto-Martin stated that they had great implication on the health impact of fish. “It adds to the growing body of evidence showing that fish consumption has really positive health benefits and should be something more heavily advertised and promoted. Children should be introduced to it early on,” she told

Pinto-Martin added that children as young as 10-months-old could be fed fish, as long as it no longer contained bones and had been chopped up. Two years old, she noted, was another good age to encourage children to eat fish. As she explained it: “Introducing the taste early makes it more palatable. It really has to be a concerted effort, especially in a culture where fish is not as commonly served or smelled. Children are sensitive to smell. If they’re not used to it, they may shy away from it.”

Adrian Raine, Pinto-Martin’s co-author on the study, echoed her statements. According to him, incorporating fish into a child’s diet was highly beneficial and better for their overall health. “Doing that could be a lot easier than nudging children about going to bed. If the fish improves sleep, great. If it also improves cognitive performance — like we’ve seen here — even better. It’s a double hit,” said Raine.

How to encourage children to eat fish

  • Children like to dip food, so recommends serving dips like hummus and marinara sauce for them to dip pieces of fish into.
  • Fish or fish oil can be mixed into a child’s favorite dish. Start with small amounts then gradually increase them as the child becomes accustomed into the taste of fish.
  • Covering fish with a child’s favorite toppings, such as cheese or mashed potatoes, can make it appear more edible to them.
  • Since children typically love sweet foods, drizzling fish in honey can help.

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