Children who eat healthy food, including two to three servings of fish a week, have better self-esteem, are likely to have more friends, and are less frequently bullied, a new study has found.
“We found that in young children aged two to nine years there is an association between adherence to healthy dietary guidelines and better psychological wellbeing,” says Dr. Louise Arvidsson, the one of the authors of the study, published in the open access journal BMC Public Health. “Our findings suggest that a healthy diet can improve wellbeing in children.”
The researchers noted that while previous studies had examined the link between children’s well-being and healthy eating habits, such as limiting intake of refined sugars and fat and consuming more fruits and vegetables, the “chronology of the association” had not been adequately researched until now.
The study, which examined 7,675 children between the ages of two and nine from Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Spain, and Sweden, found that those who ate healthy food like fruit, vegetables, and fish were less likely to suffer emotional and self-esteem problems.
Parents of children participating in the study were interviewed twice over the course of two years. They were asked to tell researchers how often their children ate foods from a list of 43 items, based upon which children were assigned a Healthy Dietary Adherence Score. Happiness and self-esteem were rated based on behaviors such as laughing, feeling scared, quarreling, feeling bossed around, and feeling fine at home. The researchers found that those with the highest HDAS had better self-esteem.
The authors noted that the associations between HDAS and general well-being were similar whether children were of normal weights or overweight, something that Arvidsson calls “somewhat surprising.”
She notes that this study invites more research into this link between healthy food and self-esteem.
“The associations we identified here need to be confirmed in experimental studies including children with clinical diagnosis of depression, anxiety or other behavioral disorders,” she tells Science Daily.
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