Eating fruit and vegetables is linked with being good for children’s mental health, new research suggests.
Children who consumed five or more portions of fruit and veg a day had the highest scores for mental wellbeing, the British study found.
It was also linked with better wellbeing among secondary school pupils in particular.
The study was the first to investigate the association between how much fruit and vegetables UK schoolchildren eat, breakfast and lunch choices, and mental wellbeing.
Lead researcher Professor Ailsa Welch, from the University of East Anglia’s Norwich Medical School, said: “We know that poor mental wellbeing is a major issue for young people and is likely to have long-term negative consequences.
“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.”
The researchers say public health strategies and school policies should be developed to ensure that good-quality nutrition is available to all children before and during school.
They analysed data from almost 9000 children in 50 schools across Norfolk taken from the Norfolk children and Young People’s Health and wellbeing Survey.
Participants self-reported their dietary choices and took part in mental wellbeing tests that covered cheerfulness, relaxation and having good interpersonal relationships.
“In terms of nutrition, we found that only around a quarter of secondary-school children and 28 per cent of primary-school children reported eating the recommended five-a-day fruits and vegetables,” Welch said.
“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.”
The study took into account other factors that might have an impact, such as adverse childhood experiences and home situations.
Dr Richard Hayhoe, also from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said they found that eating well was associated with better mental wellbeing in children.
“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,” Hayhoe said.
The research is published in BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health.