Multivitamins seem to improve brain development leading to some children being a year ahead Credit:Alamy Dr Anuraj Shankar, Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, added: “With the new emphasis in public health going beyond saving lives toward fostering thriving children, these findings indicate the need to restructure front line health and development work to focus on family welfare and support for nurturing and stimulation, and helping future parents stay in school.”Last year the Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin, said there was “good evidence” for the use of folic acid to reduce the risk of neural tube defects such as spina bifida, and some evidence, although less certain, for the use of vitamin D, which is important for bone and tooth formation and the ability to absorb calcium. But it said other supplements were not necessary.The research was published in the journal The Lancet Global Health. This work has global implications as countries are currently planning how to achieve targets for improved childhood developmentDr Husni Muadz Many experts argue about whether multivitamins are necessary during pregnancy Credit:Getty “Previous studies had hinted at the importance of social determinants, but it was the extent of our detailed cognitive assessments and the number of children tested, together with data from the pregnancy onward, that enabled us to clearly quantify the effects, and the results were surprising,” said lead author Dr. Elizabeth Prado, University of California, Davis. Procedural memory is important for a child’s academic performance and daily life, and is tied to activities such as driving, typing, reading, arithmetic, reading, speaking and understanding language, and learning sequences, rules, and categories. The study was carried out on almost 3,000 children in Indonesia aged between nine and 12, whose mothers had participated in an earlier study into the effects of supplements in pregnancy.The multivitamins used contained iron, folic acid, retinol, vitamin d, vitamin e, ascorbic acid, vitamin b, niacin, zinc, copper selenium and iodine.The children of mothers who took the supplements had better procedural memory equivalent to an additional half year of schooling. For mothers who had been anemic, a common problem in pregnancy, the effect was equivalent to one extra year of schooling. The results were surprisingDr. Elizabeth Prado Failing to take multivitamins during pregnancy could set a child back by a year by the time they reach secondary school, a new study suggests.The issue of taking supplements is controversial for pregnant women, with research last year suggesting that it was a waste of money to take anything except folic acid and vitamin d.But a new study by an international team including Harvard University, the University of California and the University of Lancaster, found that multivitamins can add the equivalent of up to a full year of schooling to a child’s cognitive abilities between the ages of nine and 12.The finding, which was carried out in women in Indonesia, is likely to be most relevant for women who do not get sufficient vitamins and minerals from their diets. “This work has global implications as countries are currently planning how to achieve targets for improved childhood development.” Biological factors such as low infant birth weight, premature birth, poor infant physical growth, poor nutrition, were found to have less of an impact on mental ability compared to home environment, maternal depression, parental education and socio-economic status.”No one on the team had anticipated the extent to which social and environmental factors would exceed biological factors as the determinants of cognitive function, two to three-fold, by some measurements,” said Dr Husni Muadz, University of Mataram, Indonesia. Women can also achieve many of the necessary vitamins and minerals through a healthy diet The study also found that early life nurturing, happier mothers and educated parents all led to cleverer children. A nurturing environment was found to be more even more important than biological factors, such as good nutrition, for general intellectual ability, academic achievement and fine motor dexterity. Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings.