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Nutritious diet linked to mental well-being in children

Children's diet linked to mental well-being.jpg
A child's mental well-being can be affected by his or her diet, a recent study has indicated.

As the old saying goes, “Eat good, feel good.” That’s a mantra being considered more and more of late, especially as consumers further understand the link between one’s diet and their overall well-being. With the COVID-19 pandemic bringing overall health to the top of public mind, consumers are reconsidering not just their own diets, but what they are feeding their children as well.

Now, a recent study published in BMJ Nutrition, Prevention and Health may give parents further cause to ensure their children are following a nutritious diet. According to the study, consumption of fruits and vegetables in school-aged children may be linked to improved mental well-being (2021;e000205).

The study examined data from nearly 10,000 school-aged children in Norfolk, UK; data from 7,570 secondary school and 1,253 primary school children in the Norfolk Children and Young People Health and Well-being Survey, open to all Norfolk schools during October 2017, were analyzed.

The authors found mental well-being and diet were linked; factors such as whether a student did or did not eat breakfast, as well as how many daily servings of fruits and vegetables were eaten, were both strongly linked to overall mental well-being.  

“Higher fruit and vegetable consumption was significantly associated with better mental well-being in secondary pupils,” the authors wrote. “Also, the type of breakfast and lunch consumed, by both primary and secondary pupils, was significantly associated with well-being.”

“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," wrote Ailsa Welch, head author of the study, in a statement.

The difference in mental well-being between students who ate the most and least fruits and vegetables was stark, the researchers wrote, noting the difference was “of a similar scale to those children experiencing daily, or almost daily, arguing or violence at home.”

“As a potentially modifiable factor, both at an individual and societal level, nutrition may therefore represent an important public health target for strategies to address childhood mental wellbeing,” the authors wrote in a press release published alongside the study. “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.’"

Food & Beverage Insider insights

Interest on the part of parents surrounding what they are feeding their children is on the rise. In fact, a 2020 Gerber-sponsored survey of 2,000 U.S. parents reported 64% worry about not providing enough healthy food for their children. Sugar is of primary concern, with FMCG Gurus data indicating more than half of parents identified the ingredient as a major concern in their children’s foods, and nearly 7 in 10 expressing concern about the amount of sugar generally present in food and beverage products aimed at children.

However, parents are not solely interested in avoiding certain ingredients for their children; they are actively seeking certain ingredients and benefits. A 2020 Kerry survey revealed 42% of mothers with kids under age 12 said they’d be more interested in purchasing a juice if it offered digestive health benefits, while 53% would be interested in purchasing a yogurt with digestive health benefits. A 2020 Mintel survey asking parents about preferences for their children’s foods indicated 41% of parents said they would most like it to include fruits and/or vegetables, 35% said vitamins and minerals, and 31% said protein.

While much of the focus on children’s nutrition is indeed related to physical health states, studies like the above make clear that mental well-being can be equally affected by dietary choices. With mental health continuing to gain awareness among nearly all consumers, a focus on keeping children healthy—in both body and mind—should mean continued interest in healthier, more well-rounded food and beverage offerings for young children.

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