Biochemical and behavioral evidence has suggested that the ratio of n-6 (omega-6) to n-3 (omega-3) could be an important predictor of executive function abilities in children.

We determined the relation between the ratio of n-6 to n-3 and cognitive function in children. We hypothesized that children with lower ratios of n-6 to n-3 fatty acids would perform better on tests of planning and working memory.

Seventy 7- to 9-y-old children completed three 24-h diet recalls and a subset of the Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Assessment Battery. Parents provided information on their demographics and children's diet histories.

Mean n-3 and mean n-6 intakes were related to the mean time spent on each action taken in the planning problem. The ratio of n-6 to n-3 significantly predicted performance on the working memory and planning problems. There was a significant interaction between the ratio and fatty acid intake; when children had high ratios, a higher intake of n-3 fatty acids predicted a better performance on the planning task than when children had lower n-3 intakes. When children had low ratios, a lower intake of n-3 and lower intake of n-6 predicted better performance than when intakes were higher.

The relation between cognitive abilities and the ratio of n-6 to n-3 may be mediated by an enzymatic affinity for n-3 fatty acids. The ratio of n-6 to n-3 should be considered an important factor in the study of fatty acids and cognitive development.