Researchers at Norwich Medical School recently took a look at the Norfolk Children and Young People Health and Well-being Survey to see if they could observe any association between nutrition and mental well-being for children. We have known that nutrition and food choices can have drastic impacts on adults but the researchers at Norwich wanted to see if the same impacts could be observed in children as the needs of a child are drastically different than that of a fully grown adult.
Being “mentally healthy” in childhood is defined by the CDC as “reaching developmental and emotional milestones and learning healthy social skills and how to cope when there are problems. Mentally healthy children have a positive quality of life and can function well at home, in school, and their communities.” In analysis, there was a strong correlation between higher mental health scores and higher fruit and vegetable consumption. The difference in mental well-being between students consuming 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables vs those consuming none was significantly higher than in students that consumed no breakfast and those that consumed only an energy drink on the way to school. Although the study was limited in scope and duration, it shows a definitive link between mental health and vegetable and fruit consumption in early childhood.
The study also showed that the prevalence of low mental well-being is rising and could become a significant public health issue. In addition to the lack of adequate nutrition, social and economic conditions, social media, and stresses of modern school culture have also been shown to influence mental being. It is important for a response to these negative mental health stressors, as there is strong evidence of mental health problems in childhood leading into adulthood and poorer life outcomes and achievements.
Previously, we have talked about the effects of nutrition on height and brain development for children. This research only amplifies the importance of maintaining a well-rounded diet for our little ones. It is important to make sure your child is receiving at least 5 servings a day of fruits and vegetables for optimal health.
Although some children may be averse to vegetables, it is important to continuously expose them to healthy choices throughout the day to make sure your little ones meet their potential. We have gone over some hints before to help introduce vegetables to your children before, so we won’t bore you with that here, but it is important to remember that it may take 10-15 exposures to new food items before your little ones take to a food item.
Making sure your child is getting the nutrition they need for mental health is especially important in early childhood as it goes hand in hand with learning at a young age. It has been shown that children not getting adequate nutrition tend to have less energy and less interest in learning, which can negatively influence cognitive development and academic performance. If your little one has been showing less interest in learning or attention issues in school looking at their diet may be something that can help.
Although the researchers did not make any specific recommendations in their conclusions on the study, they did recommend that 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.