A new United Kingdom study has indicated that children who eat more fruits and vegetables are more likely to have better mental well-being than those who eat less.
The study carried out by researchers at the University of East Anglia, UK, examined the association between children’s consumption of fruits and vegetables, their meal choices, and their mental well-being.
The researchers studied data from almost 9,000 children from more than 50 schools, including primary schools, secondary schools, and further education colleges.
The study published in ScienceDaily found that higher levels of fruit and vegetable consumption were associated with higher mental well-being scores among secondary school children.
It also found that, in secondary school children, only consuming an energy drink instead of breakfast was associated with lower mental well-being scores than not eating breakfast at all.
For both primary and secondary school children, the scientists found that mental well-being scores were higher for those who had breakfast or lunch than for children who did not eat these meals.
The study shows how eating more fruit and vegetable is linked with better wellbeing among secondary school pupils in particular.
The researchers noted that public health strategies and school policies should be developed to ensure that good quality nutrition is available to all children before and during school to optimise mental well-being and empower children to fulfil their full potential.
The Lead researcher from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, Prof Ailsa Welch, said, “We know that poor mental well-being 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 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 well-being 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 school children.”
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.
“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 10 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”, Welch said.
Also speaking, Dr. Richard Hayhoe, also from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said they found that eating well was associated with better mental wellbeing in children.
According to him, among secondary school children, in particular, there was a really strong link between eating a nutritious diet, packed with fruit and vegetables, and having better mental well-being.
“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 well-being 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 well-being as factors such as witnessing regular arguing or violence at home,” Hayhoe said.