Wild blueberries help children concentrate in school, new study finds

A team of British researchers found that school children are better able to concentrate and memorize information after having consumed wild blueberries.

This news has naturally been well received by wild blueberry harvesters, who can now advertise their crop as a super-student elixir at a time when children are having to overcome more and more distractions to learn.

As most Mainers know, this state produces the lion’s share of the world’s wild blueberries, with annual harvests ranging from just under 90 million pounds to more than 100 million pounds. Maine’s wild blueberry crop contributes an estimated $90 million to the state’s annual economy.

“We have long known that wild blueberries have enormous nutritional value, and their consumption has shown benefits in older people,” said Kit Broihier, a nutrition advisor to the Wild Blueberry Association of North America, in a statement. “Now we can see that wild blueberries may also provide cognitive benefits to young people. And it’s easy for parents to integrate wild blueberries into their children’s diets by simply adding them into a morning smoothie.”

The new study was led by Prof. Claire Williams, from the School of Psychology & Clinical Language Sciences at the University of Reading. During a three-week period in late spring of 2012, her team provided a group of students between the ages of 7 and 10 years old daily beverages before having them engage in a series of staggered cognitive tests.

The beverages either included high doses of wild blueberries (about 1.75 cups), moderate doses of wild blueberries (about three-quarters of a cup) or no wild blueberries at all.

A WBANA news release touting the results explains further:

“[O]ne test focused on delayed recognition, where the children were asked to remember 15 words from a list of 50 approximately 20 to 25 minutes after hearing them. When compared to performance at baseline, the children recognized more words following consumption of the high dose wild blueberry drinks (a 9 percent improvement) as compared to the placebo (a 3 percent decrease). Improved performance on [another] task, where the children were required to ignore distracting stimuli, indicated that concentration levels in the wild blueberry rich groups also increased.”

Williams attributed the success of the blueberries to the concentration of anthocyanins in the fruits. Anthocyanins have long been credited with giving blueberries and other plants their distinctive colors, and tests like this one are starting to bolster theories about their health benefits as well.

“When we looked at a total score across all the tasks, it really emphasized what a significant difference there was in memory and attention-related effects with the kids when they consumed the wild blueberries compared to when they did not. This suggests that anthocyanin-rich foods could potentially strengthen learning performance in school age children,” Williams said in a statement. “If you can get kids to concentrate more in class on the material being presented and tune out distracting information, I’d suspect you are going to have a large impact on their overall learning.”

Wild blueberries have long also been acclaimed for their high antioxidant content.

To be clear, the WBANA had a hand in this study, at least by providing the blueberries necessary to carry it out. And it’s worth noting that the study didn’t apparently study other fruits or vegetables, so at least in this context, we can’t tell whether wild blueberries were better for concentration than, say, carrots. We just know that wild blueberries boost concentration when compared to a placebo.

But still, it’s a nice study for wild blueberry growers to help tout their crops.