According to new research, children who eat more fruits and vegetables have better mental health. The study is the first to look at the link between fruit and vegetable consumption, breakfast and lunch choices, and mental health in UK schoolchildren. The researchers examined data from nearly 9,000 students across 50 schools. They discovered that the types of breakfast and lunch consumed by both primary and secondary school students were significantly related to wellbeing.
A new study is the first to look at the relationship between fruit and vegetable intake, breakfast and lunch choices, and mental health in UK schoolchildren. It demonstrates how eating more fruits and vegetables is associated with improved wellbeing, particularly among secondary school students. Children who ate five or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day had the highest levels of mental well-being.
UEA Health and Social Care Partners led the study in collaboration with Norfolk County Council. According to the research team, public health strategies and school policies should be developed to ensure that all children have access to high-quality nutrition before and during school, in order to improve mental health and empower children to reach their full potential.
Children who eat a better diet, packed with fruit and vegetables, have better mental wellbeing, according to new research from the University of East Anglia.
Prof Ailsa Welch of the University of East Anglia’s Norwich Medical School, who led the study, said, “We know that poor mental health is a major issue for young people and is likely to have long-term negative consequences.”
The pressures of social media and modern school culture have been cited as potential reasons for the rising prevalence of poor mental health in children and adolescents. And there is a growing recognition of the importance of mental health and well-being in childhood, not least because adolescent mental health problems frequently persist into adulthood, resulting in poorer life outcomes and achievement.
While the links between nutrition and physical health are well understood, little is known about whether nutrition influences children’s emotional well-being. As a result, we set out to investigate the relationship between dietary choices and mental well-being in schoolchildren.
The research team examined data from the Norfolk Children and Young People’s Health and Wellbeing Survey, which was collected from nearly 9,000 children in 50 schools across Norfolk (7,570 secondary and 1,253 primary school children). The Norfolk County Council’s Public Health department and the Norfolk Safeguarding Children Board commissioned this survey. During the month of October 2017, it was open to all Norfolk schools.
Children in the study self-reported their dietary choices and participated in age-appropriate tests of mental well-being that included cheerfulness, relaxation, and having good interpersonal relationships.
“In terms of nutrition, we found that only about a quarter of secondary-school children and 28% of primary-school children reported eating the recommended five-a-day fruits and vegetables,” Prof Welch said. In addition, just under one in ten children did not consume any fruits or vegetables.
More than one in every five secondary school students and one in every ten primary school students did not eat breakfast. In addition, more than one out of every ten secondary school students did not eat lunch. The researchers investigated the relationship between nutritional factors and mental well-being, as well as other factors that could have an impact, such as adverse childhood experiences and home situations.
“We found that eating well was associated with better mental wellbeing in children,” said Dr. Richard Hayhoe of UEA’s Norwich Medical School. And that there was a really strong link between eating a nutritious diet rich in fruits and vegetables and having better mental wellbeing, especially among secondary school children.
We also discovered that the types of breakfast and lunch eaten by primary and secondary school students were significantly related to wellbeing. Children who ate a traditional breakfast were happier than those who only had a snack or a drink. Secondary school students who drank energy drinks for breakfast, on the other hand, had significantly lower mental wellbeing scores, even lower than those who did not consume any breakfast at all.
According to our data, in a class of 30 secondary school students, approximately 21 will have eaten a traditional-type breakfast, and at least four will have had nothing to eat or drink before beginning classes in the morning. Similarly, at least three students will attend afternoon classes without having eaten anything. This is cause for concern, as it is likely to have an impact on not only academic performance at school, but also physical growth and development. Another intriguing finding was that nutrition had as much, if not more, of an impact on wellbeing than factors such as witnessing frequent arguing or violence at home.
Prof. Welch stated: “Nutrition is an important public health target for strategies to address childhood mental wellbeing because it is a potentially modifiable factor at both the individual and societal levels. Public health strategies and school policies should be developed to ensure that all children have access to high-quality nutrition both before and during school, in order to improve mental health and empower children to reach their full potential.”