Children who eat more fruits and vegetables have better mental wellbeing, according to new research from the United Kingdom’s University of East Anglia Health and Social Care Partners.
The study shows that eating more fruit and vegetables is linked with better wellbeing among secondary school (middle to high school age) pupils in particular. What’s more, the research showed U.K. children who consumed five or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day had the highest scores for mental wellbeing.
The study was led by UEA Health and Social Care Partners in collaboration with Norfolk County Council, according to a new release.
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 “optimize mental wellbeing and empower children to fulfil their full potential,” researchers 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,” lead researcher Professor Ailsa Welch, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said in the release.
“So, we set out to investigate the association between dietary choices and mental wellbeing among schoolchildren.”
The research team studied 2017 data from almost 9,000 children in 50 schools across Norfolk (7,570 secondary and 1,253 primary school children) taken from the Norfolk children and Young People’s Health and Wellbeing Survey, according to the release. Children 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, the release said.
The study found only around a quarter of secondary-school children and 28% of primary-school children reported eating the recommended five-a-day fruits and vegetables. What’s more, the study found that just under one in 10 children were not eating any fruits or vegetables.
The research team also looked at the association between nutritional factors and mental wellbeing and considered other factors that might have an impact – such as adverse childhood experiences and home situations.
“We found that eating well was associated with better mental wellbeing in children,” Richard Hayhoe, also from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said in the release. “And 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.”