Higher fruit and vegetable intake is significantly associated with better mental health in secondary schoolchildren, while a nutritious breakfast and lunch is linked to emotional wellbeing in pupils across the age spectrum, according to research published in BMJ Nutrition Prevention & Health.
Researchers drew on responses from more than 50 schools in Norfolk, England. In total, 10,853 pupils completed a survey on their mental health and nutrition, representing a total of 43% of all school-age pupils in the county.
Data from 7,570 secondary school and 1,253 primary school pupils were included in the final analysis. On average, primary school pupils scored slightly higher on their mental health scores than secondary school-age pupils.
Only around 25% of secondary school pupils and 28.5% of primary school pupils reported eating the recommended five portions of fruit and veg a day, with 10% and 9%, respectively, eating none.
Compared with secondary school pupils eating no fruit or veg, eating one or two daily portions was associated with a score of 1.42 units higher, while eating three or four portions was associated with a score 2.34 units higher. Eating five or more portions was associated with a score of 3.73 units higher.
The researchers said: “The importance of good quality nutrition for childhood growth and development is well established. Our study adds to prior evidence finding that nutrition is also highly relevant to childhood mental wellbeing.”
Sumantra Ray, executive director of the NNEdPro Global Centre for Nutrition and Health, said: “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.’ The findings are timely, not only because of the impact the pandemic has had on mental wellbeing, food security, and diet quality, especially in school children, but also in light of the recently published National Food Strategy for England, which highlighted gaps in school meal provision.”
He added: “This study should help to stimulate further research on diet and mental health, as well as helping to inform public health policy.”