Study Looks At The Link Between Eating Fruits And Veggies And Children’s Mental Well-Being

The Living Proof Institute

It is no secret that there are a number of factors that can influence one’s mental well-being, which includes better nutrition. In this light, a recent study has found that children that eat more fruits and vegetables are linked with better mental well-being. Meanwhile, it was also found that kids that skipped more meals also tend to have lower well-being scores in comparison to those that eat well-balanced meals throughout the day.

While adults and children have similarities in their overall well-being, it isn’t always the same for both of these groups. Since children are still growing, there is a wide number of factors that need to be considered when evaluating their health.

One such area of interest is the association between children’s nutrition and their mental well-being. Published in BMJ Nutrition Prevention & Health, this new study suggests that kids that consume more fruits and vegetables are also more likely to have a ‘better sense of mental well-being’ than those children than those that don’t eat enough fruits and veggies.


Children’s Mental Well-Being

As per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), their definition for children’s mental health is, “Being mentally healthy during childhood means reaching developmental and emotional milestones and learning healthy social skills and how to cope when there are problems. Mentally healthy children have a positive quality of life and can function well at home, in school, and in their communities.”

Speaking with Medical News Today (MNT), psychologist and well-being consultant, Lee Chambers, went on to further explain the impact of the children’s mental well-being, explaining, “Mental well-being in children plays a vital role in more than their health outcomes. Positive mental well-being is influenced by a variety of factors, and, in turn, impacts a range of outcomes, from education to health [and form] friendships to decision making.”

Chambers went on to say, “It also provides the platform to develop resilience, cope with stressors, and become rounded and health adults. It is also pivotal in their ability to be safe and for health relationships.”

“In an increasingly dynamic and uncertain world, mental well-being provides the foundations for children to build upon, to explore and learn, to play and have fun, and to navigate the challenges and adversity that come with being human,” Chambers added.

In order for researchers to better understand the other factors that power mental health and well-being, they continue to do more studies on the subject. But the subject itself of mental health and nutrition is an area of continuous interest, especially when it comes to the association between nutrition and children’s mental well-being.

According to the recent study’s authors, “Nutrition, a modifiable factor at both an individual and societal level, is an important influence on health throughout the life course, is intricately involved in [the] development and normal functioning of the body, and thus has the potential to affect both physical health and mental well-being.”


The Study Findings

This recent research was a cross-sectional study that looked into the link ‘between children’s consumption of fruits and vegetables, their meal choices, and their mental well-being.’

The study took data from over 50 schools, which included children in primary, secondary, and further education colleges as well.

In the United Kingdom, primary school children are usually those between the ages of 5 to 11 years, while secondary school children are from the ages 11 to 16 years.

As based on the United Kingdom’s system, this would mean that the oldest kids that have been included in the study are equivalent to the seniors in high school in the United States. As for the youngest kids that were included in the study were aged 8 years old.

The study data was taken from The Norfolk Children and Young People’s Health and Wellbeing Survey 2017, which included a total of 10,853 kids that filled out the survey.

For the children in secondary school, the research team used a mental health assessment form called the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale. Meanwhile, for the kids in primary school, they used the Stirling Children’s Well-Being Scale assessment form.

Both of these assessments utilize a system where a higher score means a higher level of one’s well-being.

The research group inquired about the kids consumption of fruits and vegetables, as well as what they ate for breakfast and lunch. As explained in the study, the scientists also took data on other important factors, as follows:

  • Demographics that include ethnicity, age, and level of deprivation
  • Health that includes any long-term illnesses and if there’s a disability status
  • Nutrition that includes alcohol consumption, if any, as well as weight satisfaction and free school meal status
  • Negative school experiences, like bullying or feelings of being unsafe
  • Children’s living situations, including if they have their own rooms or not, or if their parents or guardians smoke

Notably, some of these covariates like alcohol use were not included for the primary school kids survey since they were deemed inappropriate by the research group.


The Link Between Nutrition and Mental Well-Being

According to the study, the researchers found that ‘higher levels of fruit and vegetable consumption were associated with higher mental well-being scores among secondary school children.’

They also found that for those kids in secondary school, those that drank energy drinks for breakfast instead of an actual meal were associated with a lower mental well-being score than those that did not eat breakfast at all.

Both primary and secondary school children that had breakfast and lunch were found to have higher mental well-being scores than those children that didn’t eat these meals.

Co-author of the study, Professor Ailsa Welch, wrote to MNT, focusing on the following findings of the study.

Prof. Welch shared, “In a class of 30 secondary school children, we found that [four] had nothing to eat or drink before starting classes in the morning, and [three] had nothing to eat or drink before the afternoon. Only 25% of children ate [five] or more fruits and vegetables a day, and 1 in 10 ate none.”

She added, “These statistics are concerning, as poor nutrition is likely to impact on academic performance at school as well as growth and development.”

“The lower mental well-being scores of those who had no breakfast and of those who had no lunch were of the same scale as those who witnessed regular arguing or violence at home on a regular basis,” she added.


The Study Limitations and Implications

The researchers share that the study had a few limitations. The first was that since the children were only made to answer the questionnaires once, they couldn’t track the changes in their well-beings or diets over time.

The second limitation is that the data that was collected and collated relied on self-reporting from children, that has a possibility to be inaccurate. The researchers also note that a few of the questions related to the kids’ diets were overly simplified.

With the results of the study and former research, the study authors now advocate for schools to work harder to get all children nutritious food, especially for those that cannot get it at home.

Prof. Welch told MNT, “Good quality nutrition needs to be available to all children of school age to optimize mental well-being and empower children to fulfill their full potential. The associations found between nutrition and mental well-being in our study mean that strategies to improve nutrition in school children need to be investigated and implemented.”

Prof. Welch also explained to MNT that people also need to understand the reasons why some children are not eating the proper meals. She said, “Further investigations are required to uncover the reasons why some children are not having breakfast, and/or lunch, or are consuming energy drinks only. These may include social, cultural, knowledge, and economic factors, including provision and access to [fruits] and vegetables being limited in areas of deprivation.”

In the end, the study managed to bring to the forefront the importance of nutrition when thinking about the mental well-being in children, and why their nutritional needs must be met.