MENTAL WELL-BEING OF A CHILD
Keep a check on what your child is eating
This survey was commissioned by the Public Health department of Norfolk County Council and the Norfolk Safeguarding Children Board. It was open to all Norfolk schools during October 2017.
Children involved in the study self-reported their dietary choices and took part in age-appropriate tests of mental well-being that covered cheerfulness, relaxation, and having good interpersonal relationships.
Welch said, “In terms of nutrition, we found that only around a quarter of secondary-school children and 28 per cent of primary-school children reported eating the recommended five-a-day fruits and vegetables. And just under one in ten children were not eating any fruits or vegetables.”
“More than one in five secondary school children and one in 10 primary children didn’t eat breakfast. And more than one in 10 secondary school children didn’t eat lunch,” Welch noted.
The team looked at the association between nutritional factors and mental wellbeing and took into account other factors that might have an impact – such as adverse childhood experiences and home situations.
Dr Richard Hayhoe, also from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said, “We found that eating well was associated with better mental wellbeing in children. And that among secondary school children in particular, there was a really strong link between eating a nutritious diet, packed with fruit and vegetables, and having better mental wellbeing.”
“We also found that the types of breakfast and lunch eaten by both primary and secondary school pupils were also significantly associated with wellbeing,” Dr Hayhoe added.
“Children who ate a traditional breakfast experienced better wellbeing than those who only had a snack or drink. But secondary school children who drank energy drinks for breakfast had particularly low mental well-being scores, even lower than for those children consuming no breakfast at all,” Dr Hayhoe explained.
“According to our data, in a class of 30 secondary school pupils, around 21 will have consumed a conventional-type breakfast, and at least four will have had nothing to eat or drink before starting classes in the morning. Similarly, at least three pupils will go into afternoon classes without eating any lunch. This is of concern, and likely to affect not only academic performance at school but also physical growth and development,” Dr Hayhoe noted.
“Another interesting thing that we found was that nutrition had as much or more of an impact on wellbeing as factors such as witnessing regular arguing or violence at home,” Dr Hayhoe further stated.
Welch said, “As a potentially modifiable factor at an individual and societal level, nutrition represents an important public health target for strategies to address childhood mental wellbeing.”
“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 in order to optimise mental wellbeing and empower children to fulfil their full potential,” Welch concluded.