Nutrition Associated With Better Mental Well-Being In Children

June 16, 2023; Unhurry Expert Research Team.

Children who eat a better diet, packed with fruit and vegetables, have better mental well-being — according to new research from the University of East Anglia.

The investigation of the relationship between breakfast and lunch preferences, intake of fruits and vegetables, and mental health in UK schoolchildren is the first of its kind. The research team looked at information from nearly 9,000 students in 50 schools. Both primary and secondary school students’ breakfast and lunch choices were discovered to be highly correlated with well-being. Children who ate five pieces or more of fruit and vegetables per day also scored higher on tests of mental health.

The study was led by UEA Health and Social Care Partners in collaboration with Norfolk County Council.

Good quality nutrition for all children

The research team emphasized that in order to maximize mental well-being and give kids the tools they need to reach their full potential, public health plans and school policies should be created to guarantee that all kids have access to a healthy diet before and during school day.

Lead researcher Prof Ailsa Welch, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said: “We know that poor mental well-being is a major issue for young people and is likely to have long-term negative consequences.”

Social Media and school culture reasons for low mental well-being

“The pressures of social media and modern school culture have been touted as potential reasons for a rising prevalence of low mental well-being in children and young people,” added Welch.

She further explained, “and there is a growing recognition of the importance of mental health and wellbeing in early life — not least because adolescent mental health problems often persist into adulthood, leading to poorer life outcomes and achievement.”

“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 well-being. So, we set out to investigate the association between dietary choices and mental well-being among schoolchildren.”

Association between dietary choices and mental well-being

The research team studied 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.

This survey was commissioned by the Public Health Department of Norfolk County Council and the Norfolk Safeguarding Children Board. It was open to all Norfolk schools in October 2017.

Children who participated in the study self-reported their dietary preferences and participated in assessments of mental health that were age-appropriate and addressed feelings of happiness, relaxation, and having positive interpersonal interactions.

Prof Welch said: “In terms of nutrition, we found that only around a quarter of secondary-school children and 28 percent of primary-school children reported eating the recommended five-a-day fruits and vegetables. And just under one in ten 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 researchers examined the relationship between nutritional elements and mental health while also accounting for other variables that may have an effect, such as difficult upbringing and early events.

Eating a nutritious diet is associated with better mental well-being

Dr Richard Hayhoe, also from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said: “We found that eating well was associated with better mental well-being in children. And that among secondary school children, there was a strong link between eating a nutritious diet, packed with fruit and vegetables, and having better mental well-being.

“We also found that the types of breakfast and lunch eaten by both primary and secondary school pupils were also significantly associated with wellbeing.”

Children with traditional breakfast experience better wellbeing

“Children who ate a traditional breakfast experienced better well-being than those who only had a snack or drink. But secondary school children who drank energy drinks for breakfast had particularly low mental well-being scores, even lower than those children consuming no breakfast at all.”

“According to our data, in a class of 30 secondary school pupils, around 21 will have consumed a conventional-type breakfast, and at least four will have had nothing to eat or drink before starting classes in the morning.”

“Similarly, at least three pupils will go into afternoon classes without eating any lunch. This is of concern, and likely to affect not only academic performance at school but also physical growth and development.”

Nutrition has an impact on a child’s well-being

“Another interesting thing that we found was that nutrition had as much or more of an impact on wellbeing as factors such as witnessing regular arguing or violence at home.

Prof Welch said: “As a potentially modifiable factor at an individual and societal level, nutrition represents an important public health target for strategies to address childhood mental wellbeing.

“Public health strategies and school policies should be developed to ensure that good quality nutrition is available to all children both before and during school in order to optimize mental wellbeing and empower children to fulfill their full potential.”

Children who play adventurously have better mental health

Indulging in outdoor games can make children more creative and boost their imagination skills. By playing outdoor games, your child’s concentration and observational and reasoning skills will improve too


Story Source:

Materials provided by the University of East Anglia. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

Richard Hayhoe, Boika Rechel, Allan B Clark, Claire Gummerson, S J Louise Smith, Ailsa A Welch. 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; e000205 DOI: 10.1136/bmjnph-2020-000205

Page citation:

University of East Anglia. “Children who eat more fruit and veggies have better mental health.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 September 2021. <>.

Help is here:

Toll-Free Mental Health Rehabilitation Helpline Kiran (1800-599-0019)

Name of the Organisation: Indla’s Child Guidance Clinics (ICGC)

Indla’s Child Guidance Clinics (ICGC) was established in Vijayawada and then was expanded to Mumbai in 2015 followed by another branch in the same city in 2017. ICGC provides assessment, remediation, and counseling all under one roof. It offers medication, parental counseling and therapies for children and adolescents. They also conduct workshops on parenting and life skills development.


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