Mom’s take note and take heart; when you tell your teens to eat more fruit and veggies and less junk food, you are right – and not only for the physical wellbeing. A new study suggests that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can improve mental health in teenagers.
“This study provides the first insights into how fruit and vegetable intake affects children’s mental health and contributes to the emerging evidence around ‘food and mood,'” said Sumantra Ray, executive director of the NNEdPro Global Center for Nutrition and Health in Cambridge, United Kingdom.
Poor mental health is a growing concern for all young people because problems often persist into adulthood, leading to underachievement and a poorer quality of life, say the authors of the UK study.
For the study, published in the BMJ Nutrition Prevention & Health, the researchers collected data on more than 10,800 UK students who participated in a 2017 survey focused on wellbeing.
The researchers found that:
- About 25% of secondary school students and 29% of primary schoolers ate the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, while 10% and 9%, respectively, ate none.
- Around 21% of older students and 12% of younger kids had a non-energy drink or nothing at all for breakfast, and about 12% of secondary schoolers had no lunch.
- Higher amounts of fruit and vegetables were significantly tied with better mental health scores — the higher the intake, the higher the score.
Eating a full breakfast, and not just a snack, breakfast bar, or energy drink, was also tied to better mental wellbeing. Having just an energy drink for breakfast was linked to low mental and emotional health scores.
Skipping lunch was associated with lower mental health scores than brown-bagging.
Younger kids who had a snack or non-energy drink to start the day also had lower mental health scores, as did those who skipped breakfast.
Ailsa Welch, a professor of nutritional epidemiology at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom, led the study.
Her team noted that the importance of good nutrition for childhood growth and development is well established.
“Our study adds to this prior evidence the finding that nutrition is also highly relevant to childhood mental wellbeing,” the authors concluded.