08 Aug| 5 min read

Food for Well-being: How is Children's Mental Health Linked to Nutrition?

An increasing number of children struggles with their mental health and well-being. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 10% of children and adolescents worldwide suffer from a mental health problem. The most common mental illnesses affecting kids and teenagers are anxiety and depression.

Anorexia nervosa is a fatal eating and mental disorder with the highest mortality rate among adolescents.

Untreated mental health illnesses frequently persist into adulthood, reducing a person's chances of reaching their full potential and living a fulfilling life. Then, the alarming statistics show that suicide is the fourth most significant cause of death in youths aged 15 to 19.

So, early intervention is necessary to help protect the children's mental health and support their healthy development.

The Epidemic of Obesity

In the last few decades, obesity has become so common that about 17% of children in the United States are overweight. In addition to heredity, environmental factors such as bad food choices, sedentary lifestyles, and a lack of physical exercise have contributed enormously to childhood and adolescent obesity.

Obesity in childhood is associated with various health issues, including hypertension and mental health problems. Many of these disorders continue from childhood to adolescence and even into adulthood.

However, studies show that kids' and teens' unhealthy food choices can affect more than just their bodies. They can also affect how they think and feel.

The Link Between Food and Kids' Mental Health

A growing body of research shows that healthy nutrition can help boost your child's well-being and protect their mental health.

For example, a studyfrom the University of Barcelona's nutrition, food science, and gastronomy department showed that children whose diet was low in fatty fish, vegetables, and fruits were more likely to have attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Other studies also show that a nutrient-rich diet can positively impact mood and our sense of well-being. For example, the Mediterranean diet is rich in fibers, antioxidants, and monounsaturated fats, which are found to help the brain develop, decrease feelings of stress, and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.

At the same time, bad dietary habits based on empty-calorie foods rich in refined carbohydrates (sugars) and saturated fat have been related to lower mental health in children and teenagers.

Research suggests that our foods directly influence serotonin, the brain neurotransmitter that regulates mood, memory, and sleep. Low levels of serotonin are associated with mood disorders and depression.

The gastrointestinal (GI) tract produces around 90% of the serotonin in our bodies. Therefore, as most of our "happy hormone" production results from our foods, what we eat can influence how we feel, think, and behave.

How to Encourage Healthy Eating Habits

To promote healthy food choices, make sure your child stays hydrated and eats a balanced diet rich in fiber, minerals, vitamins, and monosaturated fats such as:

  • Fresh vegetables and fruits
  • Wholegrains
  • Nuts
  • Dairy
  • Eggs
  • Lean meat
  • Fish high in Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Lentils and beans

Also, encourage your child to eat regularly. For example, one study has found that school-age children who ate traditional breakfast experienced better mental health than those who skipped meals or only had snacks or drinks in the morning.

Skipping meals causes sugar levels to drop, causing irritability, anger, and tiredness. Conversely, regular meals can prevent the child's sugar levels from dropping, aiding their mood and well-being.

Author
Charmain Bogue

CEO and Co-Founder

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