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Higher fruit and veg intake may help teen mental health

A group of teens sitting on the ground

Secondary school kids who eat a lot of vegetables and fruit may be significantly more likely to have better mental health than those who don’t, according to new research.

And schoolchildren who eat a nutritious breakfast and lunch tend to have better emotional well-being, the study, published in BMJ Nutrition Prevention & Health, shows.

Poor mental health is on the rise among adolescents and teens and can have lifelong consequences, but the role of nutrition on mental well-being has been under-researched, the study authors say.

Strong association found

The UK study, using data from 7570 secondary and 1253 primary school children, found a strong association between higher fruit and vegetable consumption and higher well-being scores. Eating a good breakfast and lunch was also associated with higher well-being scores.

Only around one in four (25 per cent) secondary school pupils and 28.5 per cent of primary school pupils reported eating five portions of fruit and veg a day, with 10 per cent and nine per cent, respectively, eating none, a press release from BMJ says.

Interestingly, the researchers point out the differences in well-being scores for children who don’t eat the recommended number of fruit and vegetables, versus those who do, are similar to those who reported daily or almost daily arguing or violence at home compared with those who have a settled home environment.

They say the findings add to evidence of the importance of good nutrition for childhood growth and development.

“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,” they say.

Study limitations

The study was observational, and as such, can’t establish cause. There was also no detailed nutritional information in the survey data and the study relied on children’s subjective assessments.

8 ways to get your kids to eat more fruit and veg

  1. When it comes to getting children to eat more fruit and vegetables it’s important to lead by example. If eating five-plus-a-day vegetable serves is normal for you, it’s more likely your kids will follow suit.
  2. Start them young. Introduce your child to a variety of vegetables as soon as they start eating solids. If they don’t like something on the first try, get them to try it again a few more times so they become familiar with different tastes and textures.
  3. Keep a bowl of fruit in easy reach and make it easy to snack on vegetables by cutting them up and putting them at eye line in the fridge.
  4. Make vegetables the star of your meals, with meat and other ingredients as more of an accompaniment.
  5. Start a veggie patch and get the kids to help. You may be surprised what they’ll eat if they’ve had a part in growing it.
  6. Have your children help with meals. Again, if they’ve participated in the preparation of a meal they’re more likely to eat at least some it.
  7. If your child really doesn’t like a particular vegetable, try cooking it a different way. Or, serve them raw. Most children will prefer raw carrots over cooked or fresh tomatoes and cucumber.
  8. Add vegetables to baking. Sneaking vegetables into food won’t help your kid develop a taste for them, but adding them to baking, etc, is a good way to get them closer to the daily recommended serves.

Article sources and references

Date modified: 30 September 2021
First published: Sep 2021


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