Youth Eating Habits & Mental Wellbeing

A study published in BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health (2021) examined the association between dietary choices and mental wellbeing among 7570 secondary school and 1253 primary school children. 

In secondary school analyses, higher combined fruit and vegetable consumption was significantly associated with higher wellbeing. 

Eating breakfast or lunch, as well as the quality of the meals consumed was also associated with significant differences in wellbeing scores.

In primary school analyses, the type of breakfast or lunch was associated with significant differences in wellbeing scores in a similar way to those seen in secondary school data, although no significant association with fruit and vegetable intake was evident.

The authors concluded the findings suggest that public health strategies to optimize the mental wellbeing of children should include promotion of good nutrition.

Three additional points were highlighted regarding the type of food youth consumed and their mental health.

First, fruit and vegetable consumption by secondary school pupils showed a linear pattern of association with mental wellbeing scores showing that five or more portions eaten resulted in higher wellbeing than 3-4 portions which was higher than 1-2 portions.  

Second, consumption of energy drinks by secondary school children as a substitute for breakfast was associated with particularly low mental wellbeing scores.

Third, the associations of nutritional variables with mental wellbeing are already apparent in the younger children. 

The implication for behavioral health specialists working with young people is to target healthy eating among both primary and secondary grade level youth. 

Specifically, healthy nutrition goals for youth should include eating five or more fruits and vegetables daily, eating a healthy breakfast every morning, and avoiding energy drinks especially in lieu of eating breakfast to increase the likelihood of enhancing the mental wellbeing of children and adolescents.

Read the research paper: https://nutrition.bmj.com/content/early/2021/10/28/bmjnph-2020-000205

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