A healthy diet and healthy food are associated with better self-esteem and fewer emotional problems in children, regardless of their weight. Thus concludes a new study carried out in eight countries, including Spain, which also collects data in reverse: self-esteem is linked to guidelines that restrict the consumption of sugars and fats, and promote that of fish and vegetables.
Having few friends or being teased are some of the emotional problems that many children suffer every day. Now a study published in the journalBMC Public Health link these aspects with food.
The work associates the intake of healthy products with better self-esteem and fewer emotional disorders in minors, regardless of body weight. In the same way, better self-esteem is related to better adherence to healthy eating guidelines.
“A healthy diet can improve the well-being of children,” explains Louise Arvidsson, one of the authors from the University of Gothenburg (Sweden). "In young children there is an association between adherence to healthy dietary guidelines and better psychological well-being - which includes fewer emotional problems, better relationships with other children and higher self-esteem - two years later."
After examining 7,675 children aged two to nine years from eight European countries (Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Spain and Sweden), the researchers found that a higher score on a healthy dietary adherence index (HDAS) at the beginning of the study was associated with better self-esteem and fewer emotional problems and with peers a couple of years later.
Furthermore, the associations between HDAS and well-being were similar for children who were normal weight and those who were overweight. "It was surprising to find that the association between the initial diet and improved well-being two years later was independent of the children's socioeconomic status and their body weight," adds Arvidsson.
HDAS aims to capture adherence to healthy dietary guidelines, which include limiting your intake of refined sugars, reducing fats, and eating fruits and vegetables. A higher HDAS indicates a better adherence to the recommendations, that is, a healthier diet. The guidelines are common to the eight countries included in this study.
More fish and vegetables
The authors used data from a prospective cohort study that aims to understand how to prevent overweight in children while considering the multiple factors that contribute to it.
At the beginning of the study period, parents were asked to report how often per week their children consumed food from a list of 43 items. Depending on their consumption of these foods, the children were assigned an HDAS score.
Psychosocial well-being was evaluated based on self-esteem, relationships with parents, emotional problems and with peers. The height and weight of the children were also measured. All questionnaires were repeated two years later.
The study is the first to analyze the individual components included in the HDAS and their associations with the well-being of children. The authors found that eating fish according to the guidelines (2-3 times per week) was associated with better self-esteem and an absence of emotional and peer problems. The intake of whole grain products was associated with a lack of peer conflict.
The associations went in both directions, that is, better well-being is related to the recommended consumption of fruits, vegetables, sugar and fat; better self-esteem is associated with sugar intake according to guidelines; good relationships with parents with weighted fruit and vegetable consumption; fewer emotional problems with taking in acceptable fat; and fewer peer problems are associated with healthy fruit and vegetable consumption.
Results must be confirmed
The authors note that children with poor nutrition and low well-being were more likely to drop out of studies and therefore underrepresented at two-year follow-up, complicating conclusions about true rates of poor nutrition and low well-being.
Furthermore, as the study is observational and based on data provided by the parents, it is not possible to draw conclusions about cause and effect. "These associations need to be confirmed in experimental studies that take into account children with a clinical diagnosis of depression, anxiety or other behavioral disorders, rather than the well-being reported by parents," concludes Arvidsson.