A majority of children and teens do not have diets with the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables -- and that may impact their mental health, according to a new study in England. Photo by boaphotostudio/Pixabay
Sept. 27 (UPI) -- Children who eat a diet high in fruit and fruit and vegetables have better mental health, a study published Monday by the journal BMJ Nutrition Prevention & Health found.
Those who had five or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day achieved the highest scores for mental well-being in the study, the data showed.
This was particularly true for adolescents and teens, the researchers said.
However, only one in four children in this age group, and 28% of those of elementary school age, reported eating the recommended five servings a day of fruits and vegetables, according to the researchers.
In addition, just under one in 10 children reported eating no fruits or vegetables, they said.
"We found that eating well was associated with better mental well-being in children," study co-author Richard Hayhoe said in a press release.
"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 well-being," said Hayhoe, a senior lecturer in epidemiology at the University of East Anglia in England.
The study also found that many children also skip breakfast and lunch They survey covered nearly 9,000 children from more than 50 schools in England.
More than one in five secondary school children and one in 10 elementary children indicated that they did not eat breakfast, and more than one in 10 secondary school children reported that they did not eat lunch, the researchers said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that children and teenager age 18 years and younger consume at least two cups of fruit and 2 1/2 cups of vegetables daily.
Despite national efforts to promote healthy eating among school-age children, most young people in the United States fail to meet these minimum amounts in their diets, according to the USDA.
For example, an analysis of the dietary habits of nearly 15,000 teens ages 14 to 18 found that fewer than 9% ate the recommended amount of fruit and just over 2% consumed the recommended vegetable intake.
In addition, more than two-thirds of calories consumed by children and teens in the United States come from ultra-processed foods, a study published in August by JAMA found.
For this study, Hayhoe and his colleagues analyzed survey responses from nearly 7,600 secondary-school students and more than 1,200 elementary school students.
The children reported their own dietary choices and took part in age-appropriate tests of mental well-being that assessed cheerfulness, relaxation and having good interpersonal relationships.
The researchers said they took into account other factors that might have an impact, such as adverse childhood experiences and home situations.
"Nutrition had as much or more of an impact on well-being as factors such as witnessing regular arguing or violence at home," study co-author Ailsa Welch said in a press release.
For example, "children who ate a traditional breakfast experienced better well-being than those who only had a snack or drink," said Welch, a professor of nutritional epidemiology at the University of East Anglia.