If you’re a child between 6 and 8 and are learning to read, a healthy diet may be a key to greater reading success according to a new study. Researchers at the University of Eastern Finland tracked children’s reading progress from grades 1 to 3; according to a study published in the September 2016 European Journal of Nutrition, they found that those who had a better diet had more advanced skills.
A Western diet, which is on the rise across the world as people’s incomes increase, and as fast foods become more of a staple, is inherently unhealthy. “[There’s a] nutrition transition occurring around the world,” comments David Tilman, a professor of Ecology at the University of Minnesota. “We have a whole new group of people who are malnourished because they eat foods that are no good for them, that have no nutritional benefit.” Ian Myles, from the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases adds, “The biggest features [of a Western diet] are overconsumption of over-refined sugars, highly refined and saturated fats, animal protein and a reduced intake of plant-based fibers.” This translates to a diet high in fat, red meat, salt, and sugars, low in fiber, and “Too many calories in general.”
According to a CNN report, such a diet can negatively impact health by increasing your risk of infection, obesity, and diabetes, and colon and prostate cancers, and by changing the composition of intestinal bacteria to less helpful forms. 
The Finnish researchers compared the diets of 161 children in grade 1 (between six and eight years old) to the Mediterranean diet, the Baltic Sea diet, and the Finnish healthy diet recommendations. All three of these are higher in vegetables, fruit and berries, fish, whole grains, and unsaturated fats, and much lower in red meat, sugar, and saturated fats than conventional Western diets. They found that the children who stuck closely to one of these plans over a three-year period displayed better results in reading comprehension and skills development. Dr. Eero Haapala, a researcher at the University of Eastern Finland and the University of Jyväskylä, remarked in a press release that, “Another significant observation is that the associations of diet quality with reading skills were also independent of many confounding factors, such as socio-economic status, physical activity, body adiposity, and physical fitness.”
The researchers found the Mediterranean diet was linked to better reading comprehension in grade 3; the Baltic Sea diet was linked to better reading fluency in grades 2 and 3 and better reading comprehension in all three grades; and the Finnish diet was linked to better reading fluency in grades 1 and 2 and better reading comprehension in all three grades.
Children with the highest scores for Baltic Sea and Finnish diets also had better reading fluency and comprehension across all three grades when compared to the children with the lowest scores for sticking to the diets.
While there is undoubtedly much additional research needed to describe exactly how the diets impact reading comprehension and fluency, one thing is clear now. The parents, schools, governments, and companies who are in charge of educating our children need to take a more active role in ensuring that all students, regardless of grade, receive a more healthful and nutritious diet – their schooling, and their futures, may well be at stake.
 Senthilingam, Meera. (July 7, 2015). “Step away from the burger: Why a ‘Western’ diet is bad for your health.” Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/07/health/western-diet-health/