Poor mental well-being is a major issue for young people and is likely to have long-term negative consequences. The contribution of nutrition is underexplored. We, therefore, investigated the association between dietary choices and mental well-being among schoolchildren.
Methods Data from 7570 secondary school and 1253 primary school children in the Norfolk Children and Young People Health and Well-being Survey, open to all Norfolk schools during October 2017, were analysed. Multivariable linear regression was used to measure the association between nutritional factors and mental well-being assessed by the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Well-being Scale for secondary school pupils, or the Stirling Children’s Well-being Scale for primary school pupils. We adjusted all analyses for important covariates including demographic, health variables, living/home situation and adverse experience variables.
Results In secondary school analyses, a strong association between nutritional variables and well-being scores was apparent. Higher combined fruit and vegetable consumption was significantly associated with higher well-being: well-being scores were 3.73 (95% CI 2.94 to 4.53) units higher in those consuming five or more fruits and vegetables (p<0.001; n=1905) compared with none (n=739). The type of breakfast or lunch consumed was also associated with significant differences in well-being score. Compared with children consuming a conventional type of breakfast (n=5288), those not eating any breakfast had mean well-being scores 2.73 (95% CI 2.11 to 3.35) units lower (p<0.001; n=1129) and those consuming only an energy drink had well-being scores 3.14 (95% CI 1.20 to 5.09) units lower (p=0.002; n=91). Likewise, children not eating any lunch had well-being scores 2.95 (95% CI 2.22 to 3.68) units lower (p<0.001; 860) than those consuming a packed lunch (n=3744). In primary school analyses, the type of breakfast or lunch was associated with significant differences in well-being scores in a similar way to those seen in secondary school data, although no significant association with fruit and vegetable intake was evident.
Conclusion These findings suggest that public health strategies to optimise the mental well-being of children should include promotion of good nutrition.