Children who have plenty of fruit and vegetables in their diets have better mental health, new research reveals.
A new study published today is the first to investigate the association between fruit and vegetable intakes, breakfast and lunch choices, and mental wellbeing in UK school children.
Led by UEA Health and Social Care Partners in collaboration with Norfolk County Council, the study looked at data from almost 9,000 children in 50 schools across Norfolk (7,570 secondary and 1,253 primary school children).
It found that children who consumed five or more portions of fruit and veg a day had the highest scores for mental wellbeing.
It also discovered that eating more fruit and vegetables is linked with better wellbeing among secondary school pupils in particular.
Lead researcher Prof Ailsa Welch, from UEA’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. So, we set out to investigate the association between dietary choices and mental wellbeing among schoolchildren.’
Prof Welch continued: ‘In terms of nutrition, we found 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. 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.’
‘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,’ Prof Welch concluded.
‘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.’