A new study revealed that children who eat a nutritious breakfast and more fruits and vegetables have better mental health.
The researchers described the quality of some of the children’s meals and snacks as “alarming” and called for urgent action to improve it, adding that malnutrition is also likely to affect children’s growth, development and education, by impairing their ability to focus in class.
Nutrition experts from Britain’s University of East Anglia asked 10,853 pupils at 50 schools in Norfolk about their diet and mental health.
Only 25% of secondary school students and 28.5% of primary school students reported eating the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables per day, while about 10% and 9%, respectively, ate nothing.
Furthermore, 22.3% of secondary school students and 10.2% of elementary school students had only or nothing drink for breakfast.
The mean mental health score was 46.6 out of 70 for high school students and 46 out of 60 for elementary school students.
High school students who ate five or more servings of fruit or vegetables per day averaged 3.73 units higher than those who ate none.
Those who only ate a snack for breakfast scored 1.15 units lower than those who had the likes of toast, porridge, cereal, yogurt, or fruit.
High school students who didn’t get breakfast scored 2.73 points lower than those who ate a traditional meal, and those who only had an energy drink dropped 3.14 points.
Among elementary school children, eating only a snack for breakfast was associated with a decrease of 5.50 units, according to results published in the journal Science. BMJ Nutrition Prevention & Health.
Professor Ailsa Welch, principal investigator, said: “There is a growing recognition of the importance of mental health and well-being in early life – not least because adolescent mental health problems often persist into adulthood, leading to poorer life outcomes and achievement.”
Public health strategies and school policies must be developed to ensure that all children are provided with quality nutrition before and during school in order to improve mental well-being and enable children to reach their full potential.
Tips for a healthy diet for children in school
• Eat at least 5 servings of a variety of fruits and vegetables each day, counting all fresh, frozen, dried and canned fruits and vegetables.
• Base meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates and whole grains.
• 30 grams of fiber a day: Same as eating all of the following: 5 portions of fruits and vegetables, 2 whole-wheat crackers, 2 thick slices of whole-wheat bread, and a large baked potato with the skin on.
• Have some dairy alternatives or dairy products (such as soy drinks) choose options that are lower in fat and lower in sugar.
• Eat some beans, legumes, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins (including two servings of fish each week, one of which should be fatty).
• Choose unsaturated oils and fats and consume in small quantities.
• Drink 6-8 glasses of water daily.
• Adults should have less than 6g of salt and 20g of saturated fat for women or 30g for men per day.