Main meals are vital for stabilizing blood sugar levels, which makes it easier to concentrate in school. Fruit and vegetables are good sources of vitamin C, folic acid, magnesium, and many other useful nutrients. According to a new British study, children who eat breakfast and lunch and get more fruit and vegetables have better mental health by a number of different parameters. It is also a fact that many children don’t thrive and that lack of nutrients can trigger or exacerbate the problem. For that reason, the researchers call for a better health policy at home and at school to ensure that children get healthy diets, simply because it optimizes their mental well-being and academic potential.
The new British study was headed by Professor Ailsa Welch from UEA’s Norwich Medical School and is the first to demonstrate how eating fruit and vegetables and choosing breakfast and lunch can affect the mental well-being of school pupils. Science knows already that many young school children don’t thrive, and it is often mentioned that pressure from social media and the school culture may contribute to the problem. It is also mentioned that poor well-being during the first years in school may have long-term consequences with regard to career and quality of life
Many studies link diet to quality of life in adults, yet there is very little science that looks at the same in children, so Professor Ailsa Welch wanted to look closer at this relation.
A healthy diet is linked to better mental health
Professor Ailsa Welch and her team of researchers analyzed data from 9,000 schoolchildren from 50 schools in Norfolk. The data was collected from a larger study that had been published earlier (Norfolk Children and Young People’s Health and Wellbeing Survey).
The children were requested to report what they ate. Also, the were asked to fill in a questionnaire with information about quality of life with focus on parameters such as joy and happiness, relaxation, and healthy relations.
The scientists found that only around 25 percent of the older children and 28 percent of the younger children consumed the recommended daily quantities of fruit and vegetables (in Great Britain, it is five servings per day). Twenty percent of the older schoolchildren and 10 percent of the younger ones did not even eat breakfast. And more than 10 percent of the older schoolchildren did not eat lunch. The scientists looked closer at the relation between dietary factors and mental well-being but also took into account other factors that can affect a person’s mood, such as negative childhood experiences and the situation at home.
Altogether, the scientists observed that healthy eating habits were significantly correlated with better mental health. Children with healthy diets were also better at discussing and less violent at home. The connection was particularly pronounced among the older schoolchildren.
Poor diets affect your mood, academic skills, and physical development
The team of scientists also noted a significant link between the type of breakfast and lunch the children ate and their mental health. Children, who got a traditional English breakfast with main ingredients like eggs, high-quality bacon, and baked beans, had better mental health than children who got a snack. The older schoolchildren who only got an energy drink for breakfast scored lowest in mental tests. In fact, their score was lower than that of children, who did not eat breakfast. This is most likely because energy drinks have a powerful impact on blood sugar levels. When levels skyrocket only to plummet soon after, you feel poorly.
According to the scientists, children who don’t eat breakfast or lunch also have difficulty with concentrating in class and that affects their academic skills. The unhealthy diet habits even affect the children’s social competence, their physical health, and their development.
The researchers call for improved health policies
It worries the researchers that so many schoolchildren have really poor diets. Therefore, they call for new strategies and better school policy to ensure that the children get a healthy and nutritious breakfast. After all, this is a prerequisite to their ability to thrive and concentrate in school.
The new study is published in BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health.
We see the same tendency in Denmark, where many schoolchildren don’t get breakfast or lunch and don’t eat enough fruit and vegetables. We also have a need in this country for a better health policy to ensure that schoolchildren stick with healthy eating habits.
Recommendations and facts about Danish schoolchildren’s eating habits and well-being
Richard Hayhoe et al. Cross-sectional associations of schoolchildren´s fruit and vegetable consumption, and meal choices, with their mental well-being: a cross-sectional study. BMJ Nutrition Prevention & Health. 2021
University of East Anglia. Children who eat more fruit and veggies have better mental health. ScienceDaily. 2021
Stor rapport afslører: Alt for mange unge spiser usundt og er overvægtige (videnskab.dk)
Stigende antal elever i specialklasser: Folkeskolens inklusion er presset | DenOffentlige.dk
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