Nutritional Risk in Early Childhood and School Readiness
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BACKGROUND: Nutrition in early childhood is important for healthy growth and development. Achieving school readiness is considered one of the most important developmental milestones for young children. OBJECTIVES: The purpose of this study is to determine if nutritional risk in early childhood is associated with school readiness in kindergarten. METHODS: A prospective cohort study was conducted through The Applied Research Group for Kids (TARGet Kids!) primary care research network in Toronto, Canada, 2015-2020. Nutritional risk was measured (18 mo to 5 y) using validated parent-completed questionnaires called Nutrition Screening for Toddlers and Preschoolers (NutriSTEP). High nutritional risk was categorized as scores ≥21. School readiness was measured using the validated teacher-completed Early Developmental Instrument (EDI), which measures 5 developmental domains in kindergarten (2 y of schooling, ages 4-6 y, before they enter grade 1). Vulnerability indicates scores lower than a population-based cutoff at the 10th percentile on at least 1 domain. Multiple logistic and linear regression models were conducted adjusting for relevant confounders. RESULTS: The study included 896 children: 53% were male, 9% had high nutritional risk, and 17% were vulnerable on the EDI. A 1-SD increase in NutriSTEP total score was associated with 1.54 times increased odds of being vulnerable on the EDI among children in year 2 of kindergarten (P = 0.001). High nutritional risk cutoff was associated with 4.28 times increased odds of being vulnerable on the EDI among children in year 2 of kindergarten (P < 0.001). NutriSTEP total score and high nutritional risk were associated with lower scores on all 5 EDI domains, with the strongest association observed for the domains of language and cognitive development and communication skills and general knowledge. CONCLUSIONS: Higher nutritional risk in early childhood is associated with lower school readiness in year 2 of kindergarten. Nutritional interventions early in life may offer opportunities to enhance school readiness. This trial was registered www.clinicaltrials.gov as NCT01869530.
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