According to University of East Anglia research, children who eat a healthier diet rich in fruits and vegetables have better mental health.
Today’s new study is the first to examine the relationship between fruit and vegetable intakes, breakfast choices and mental well-being in UK schoolchildren.
This study shows that secondary school students who eat more fruits and vegetables are healthier. The highest mental well-being scores were achieved by children who ate five or more servings of fruit and vegetables per day.
The study was conducted by UEA Health and Social Care Partners, in collaboration with Norfolk County Council.
According to the research team, school policies and public health strategies should be created to ensure that all children have access to good nutrition before and during school. This will help to improve mental wellbeing and enable children to reach their full potential.
Professor Ailsa Welch from UEA’s Norwich Medical School said that lead researcher: “We know poor mental health is a major problem for young people, and it is likely to have negative long-term consequences.”
“The pressures of social media and modern school culture have been touted as potential reasons for a rising prevalence of low mental wellbeing in children and young people.”
“And there is a growing recognition of the importance of mental health and wellbeing in early life – not least because adolescent mental health problems often persist into adulthood, leading to poorer life outcomes and achievement.”
“While the links between nutrition and physical health are well understood, until now, not much has been known about whether nutrition plays a part in children’s emotional wellbeing. So, we set out to investigate the association between dietary choices and mental wellbeing among schoolchildren.”
The data was taken from the Norfolk Children and Young People’s Health and Wellbeing Survey and included almost 9,000 children from 50 schools in Norfolk.
The Public Health department at Norfolk County Council and Norfolk Safeguarding Children Board commissioned this survey. The survey was available to all Norfolk schools in October 2017.
The study involved children who self-reported their diet choices. They also took part in age-appropriate mental wellness tests that measured happiness, relaxation, and good interpersonal relationships.
Prof Welch stated:
“In terms of nutrition, we found that only around a quarter of secondary-school children and 28 per cent of primary-school children reported eating the recommended five-a-day fruits and vegetables. And just under one in ten children were not eating any fruits or vegetables.”
“More than one in five secondary school children and one in 10 primary children didn’t eat breakfast. And more than one in 10 secondary school children didn’t eat lunch.”
The study looked at the relationship between nutrition and mental well-being and also considered other factors such as home and adverse childhood experiences.
Dr Richard Hayhoe also of UEA’s Norwich Medical School said that “eating well is associated with better mental health in children. Particularly among secondary school students, there was a strong correlation between eating a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables and better mental health.
“We also found that the types of breakfast and lunch eaten by both primary and secondary school pupils were also significantly associated with wellbeing.”
“Children who ate a traditional breakfast experienced better wellbeing than those who only had a snack or drink. But secondary school children who drank energy drinks for breakfast had particularly low mental wellbeing scores, even lower than for those children consuming no breakfast at all.”
“According to our data, in a class of 30 secondary school pupils, around 21 will have consumed a conventional-type breakfast, and at least four will have had nothing to eat or drink before starting classes in the morning.
“Similarly, at least three pupils will go into afternoon classes without eating any lunch. This is of concern, and likely to affect not only academic performance at school but also physical growth and development.”
“Another interesting thing that we found was that nutrition had as much or more of an impact on wellbeing as factors such as witnessing regular arguing or violence at home.
Prof Welch said: “As a potentially modifiable factor at an individual and societal level, nutrition represents an important public health target for strategies to address childhood mental wellbeing.
“Public health strategies and school policies should be developed to ensure that good quality nutrition is available to all children both before and during school in order to optimise mental wellbeing and empower children to fulfil their full potential.”
‘Cross-sectional associations of schoolchildren’s fruit and vegetable consumption, and meal choices, with their mental wellbeing: a cross-sectional study’ is published in the journal BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health.
Journal: BMJ Nutrition Prevention & Health