Iron-Biofortified Pearl Millet (Bajra) Consumption Improves Cognitive Outcomes in Indian Adolescents

Washington, D.C.: Consuming biofortified pearl millet (bajra) stems the deleterious effects of iron deficiency significantly improving learning and mental abilities related to perception, attention, and memory among Indian school-going adolescents, according to a new study.

“If we can improve adolescents’ performance in school by boosting their iron intake we may also have longer term impacts in terms of their ability to secure a good job, or be admitted to a college program,” says Dr. Samuel Scott, Associate Research Fellow, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), lead author of the publication.

Poor diets lacking in iron limit brain development and learning capacity, hampering the potential of individuals and societies, generation after generation. Countries like India are at the heart of this challenge, as nearly half of all Indian women and children under five are anemic. Iron deficiency is a major—and preventable—cause.

According to the study, recently published in the Journal of Nutrition, biofortified high-iron pearl millet can stem the deleterious ripple effect of iron deficiency by significantly improving nutrition and cognitive performance. The study was conducted by IFPRI’s Samuel Scott, Harvest Plus’ Erick Boy and Pennsylvania State University’s Laura E. Murray-Kolb. This is the second landmark study to demonstrate that iron biofortification results in functional cognitive improvements that could profoundly impact women and teen’s daily lives, including their ability to succeed at school and work.