Whole-blood fatty acids are associated with executive function in Tanzanian children aged 4-6 years: A cross-sectional study

Theresia Jumbe, Sarah S. Comstock, William S. Harris, Joyce Kinabo, Matthew B. Pontifex, Jenifer I. Fenton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Essential fatty acids (EFA) are PUFA that are metabolised to long-chain PUFA and are important for brain development and cognitive function. The objective of this study was to determine the association between whole-blood EFA and cognitive function in Tanzanian children. A total of 325 2-6-year-old children attempted the dimensional change card sort (DCCS) tasks to assess executive function. Blood samples were collected for fatty acid (FA) analysis by GC. Associations between executive function and FA levels were assessed by regression. Among the 130 4-6-year-old children who attempted the DCCS tasks, whole-blood levels of linoleic acid were positively associated with executive function, whereas whole-blood levels of α-linolenic acid and nervonic acid were inversely associated with executive function. A full model including all twenty-five FA explained 38 % of the variation in executive function, whereas a reduced model including only the EFA (α-linolenic acid and linoleic acid), DHA and EPA explained 25 % of the variation in executive function. Children who had sufficient whole-blood levels of EFA were 3·8 times more likely to successfully complete all DCCS tasks compared with children with insufficient EFA. These results suggest that whole-blood FA levels are associated with cognitive abilities. Intervention trials that include assessment of whole-blood FA levels are required to determine the relationships between intake, blood levels and executive function in Tanzanian children.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1537-1545
Number of pages9
JournalBritish Journal of Nutrition
Issue number9
StatePublished - Nov 14 2016


  • Brain development
  • Cognition
  • Essential fatty acids
  • Executive function
  • Fatty acids
  • Lipids
  • Tanzania

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


Dive into the research topics of 'Whole-blood fatty acids are associated with executive function in Tanzanian children aged 4-6 years: A cross-sectional study'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this