The prevalence of low mental well-being in children and young people is rising. Poor mental well-being is a major issue for young people and is likely to have long-term negative consequences as these often persist into adulthood.
Previous observational research has shown that a diet containing high levels of saturated fat, refined carbohydrates and processed food products is associated with poorer mental health in children and adolescents however the relationship of diet and nutrition with mental health and well-being in children is still not fully understood despite the relevance of diet quality to physical health being well established.
A recent observational study by the University of East Anglia set out to investigate the association between fruit and vegetable intakes, breakfast & lunch choices with mental wellbeing in UK school children. Children in the study self-reported their dietary choices and took part in age-appropriate tests of mental well-being which covered cheerfulness, relaxation and having good interpersonal relationships.
The results found that eating well was associated with better mental wellbeing and that among secondary school children in particular where there was a really strong link between eating a nutritious diet including plentiful fruit and vegetables and having better mental wellbeing. In fact, those who ate 5 or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day had the highest scores for mental wellbeing.
Revealing research results …
However, the majority of school children in this survey, 7 out of 10, reported not consuming the recommended 5-a-day fruits and vegetables, with approximately 1 in 10 consuming no fruits or vegetables.
The type of breakfast eaten was also associated with changes in well-being. The highest levels of wellbeing were found with those children consuming a conventional type of breakfast ie toast, porridge, cereal, yoghurt, fruit, cooked with those consuming a snack or breakfast bar reporting lower well-being scores.
Of greater concern, the consumption of energy drinks by secondary school children as a substitute for breakfast was associated with particularly low mental well-being scores, in fact, these were even lower than for those children consuming no breakfast at all!
This is important as it is likely to affect not only academic performance at school, as evidence that breakfast is particularly important for cognitive function in children, but will likely also affect growth and development if this deficit in nutrition is not corrected during the day.
Packed lunches were linked with the highest recorded levels of well-being, followed by school lunches. Worryingly the results revealed that at least 10% of secondary pupils went to afternoon classes without eating any lunch.
As parents we can help by ensuring that good quality nutrition is available before and during school to optimise mental wellbeing and empower our children to fulfil their full potential.
Sufficient nutrition is required to provide the building blocks for the normal development and function of the body in children, including cell growth, synthesis of DNA, neurotransmitter & hormone production and particularly important for brain development. In early childhood the development of the brain takes place at greater speed than the rest of the body which makes it particularly at risk of nutritional deficiency.
To find out more about how Fiona can help improve nutrition for you and your family book a 20 minute health review call using the below link or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org