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A study from 2020 found that mental health in young people was directly connected to healthy behaviours such as consumption of fruit and vegetables and adequate sleep. This cohort study found that the presence of self-reported mental health problems at ages 7 and 14 years and at age 14 years only was associated with some health behaviours at age 14 years, including sleep, fruit and vegetable consumption, and social media use.

These findings are particularly important for public health and clinical practice, given that health behaviours can deteriorate and become habitual during adolescence, and it is also a known time for the first emergence of mental health problems that continue into adulthood.1

Research from 2016 found has found that parents and teachers are less aware of the impact of good childhood nutrition on brain development than they are of the impact on physical health. This research was carried out as part of the NUTRIMENTHE project and published in the British Journal of Nutrition.

Over 2000 parents and teachers of children aged between 4 – 10 years old took part in the study, which involved completion of an online questionnaire. Results showed that 80% of participants felt that a child’s physical development depended very much or extremely on diet, whereas only 67% felt that diet had an impact on mental development.<sup2

Lead author, Dr Bernadette Egan from the University of Surrey commented,

“Our study found that larger proportions of parents and teachers regarded diet to be an important determinant of physical development than of mental development. The family provides a key environment for children to learn and develop food preferences and eating habits and parents are seen as nutritional gatekeepers. Teachers also have a very important role to play at this stage of children’s lives.”

Both these studies highlight just how important it is to establish healthy behaviours in childhood including getting adequate sleep and following a healthy diet, to ensure healthy mental development into adolescence and adulthood.

1. JAMA Netw Open. 2020 Aug; 3(8): e2011381. Published online 2020 Aug 10. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.11381
2. Egan B, et al.  The effect of diet on the physical and mental development of children: views of parents and teachers in four European countries.  British Journal of Nutrition.  Published online ahead of print, http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S000711451500032X 

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