New research finds that children who eat more fruit and vegetables have better mental health. The study is the first to investigate the association between fruit and vegetable intakes, breakfast and lunch choices, and mental wellbeing in UK school children. The research team studied data from almost 9,000 children in 50 schools. They found that the types of breakfast and lunch eaten by both primary and secondary school pupils were significantly associated with wellbeing.
She continued, "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 research team studied data from almost 9,000 children in 50 schools across Norfolk (7,570 secondary and 1,253 primary school children). The data was extracted from the Norfolk children and Young People's Health and wellbeing Survey.
Children involved in the study self-reported their dietary choices and took part in age-appropriate tests of mental wellbeing that covered cheerfulness, relaxation, and having good interpersonal relationships.
Professor Welch said: "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 team looked at the association between nutritional factors and mental wellbeing and analzyed other factors that might have an impact -- such as adverse childhood experiences and home situations.
Dr Richard Hayhoe, also from UEA's Norwich Medical School, said: "We found that eating well was associated with better mental wellbeing in children; among secondary school children there was a really strong link between eating a nutritious diet, packed with fruit and vegetables, and having better mental 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.
Childhood is a time when dietary habits will have lasting impact – ensure your children eat heartily from Mother Nature’s wide pantry and they will perform well physically and mentally and enjoy a brighter and more stable outlook through life.
Hayhoe R, et al. “Cross-sectional associations of schoolchildren’s fruit and vegetable consumption, and meal choices, with their mental well-being: a cross-sectional study.” BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health, 2021; e000205