According to recent data published in the journal BMJ Nutrition Prevention & Health, children who eat five or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day have the best mental health.
According to this study, which is the first of its kind, a higher intake of fruit and vegetables is associated with better mental wellbeing among secondary school pupils. Further, a nutritious breakfast and lunch is linked to emotional wellbeing in pupils across all ages, the research shows.
As problems of poor mental health among young people soar, we may need to rethink how we feed our children at home and at school.
In this landmark study, researchers have investigated the association between how much fruit and vegetables schoolchildren in the UK eat plus their breakfast and lunch choices and mental wellbeing. The data from almost 9,000 children in 50 primary and secondary schools across Norfolk taken from the Norfolk children and young people’s health and wellbeing survey was analysed. Participants self-reported dietary choices and took part in mental wellbeing tests covering cheerfulness, relaxation and interpersonal relationships. The study took into account other factors that might have an impact including adverse childhood experiences and home situations.
Lead researcher, Prof Ailsa Welch at the University of East Anglia’s Norwich Medical School, said: “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.
“We know that poor mental wellbeing is a major issue for young people and is likely to have long-term negative consequences.”
The study revealed that only around a quarter of secondary-school children and 28% of primary-school children reported eating the recommended five-a-day fruits and vegetables. Out of these, just under one in 10 children were not eating any fruits or vegetables at all! It also revealed that more than one in five secondary-school children and one in 10 primary children did not eat breakfast while more than one in 10 secondary-school children did not eat lunch.
Dr Richard Hayhoe, noted that 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 wellbeing.
According to the data, in a class of 30 secondary pupils, 21 will have had a conventional breakfast, and at least four will have had nothing to eat or drink before starting classes in the morning. Three pupils will go into afternoon classes without any lunch.
“Children who ate a traditional breakfast experienced better wellbeing than those who only had a snack or drink,” Dr Hayhoe said. “But secondary schoolchildren who drank energy drinks for breakfast had particularly low mental wellbeing scores, even lower than for those children consuming no breakfast at all.”
With this in mind, we should really be prioritising our eating habits, rethinking how we eat and changing our consumption.