Article, Mental Health, Nutrition

Access to Good Nutrition and Its Importance for Mental Health

The rise of mental health issues like anxiety & depression is not just something observable in the world of grown-ups.
The rise of mental health issues like anxiety & depression is not just something observable in the world of grown-ups. Even though we want our kids to have a joyful upbringing, more and more children are reported to struggle with their mental health [1].

While there certainly is a huge complexity to this situation and many factors that can influence it, we want to bring awareness to the role nutrition can play within this dynamic.

How does nutrition influence mental health?
It is undisputed how much of a positive effect a healthy diet can have on one’s mental health (or the other way around, how a bad diet can negatively affect us) [2]. It supports our brain function by providing all the necessary nutrients and controls neuro-inflammation [3]. Trying to eat a healthy mix of mostly organic or minimally processed foods, with sufficient amounts of protein, fiber, healthy carbs & fats is a solid basis. However, not just the physical aspects of food but also the psychological ones are important: Food security can be a big factor affecting our sense of safety and well-being.

Given that children can’t be held responsible for their dietary choices and depend on their environment to be nourished, it is particularly concerning that the WHO reports that one of three primary school aged children is overweight or obese and this trend is only expected to rise [4]. Children that come from disenfranchised parts of the population are even more vulnerable against rising food prices and periods of inflation as this limits their access to nutritious options, increases food insecurity, and heightens the risk of malnutrition and related health issues.

Free access to healthy school lunches
Giving more kids access to healthy food through free school lunches can be an effective strategy for fighting diet related health issues in children and gives them healthier options to choose from. A recent study [5] in South Korea on the impacts of free school lunch policies on adolescent BMI and mental health found out that “the abolishment of free school lunches harmed (female) underweight students by causing additional weight losses whereas the reintroduction of free school lunches led to an average weight loss".  Additionally, when every student can grab a meal without worrying about the cost, it can boost social interaction, fostering a more inclusive environment.

Cultivating healthy habits in children from an early age helps them to create awareness about their bodies, dietary choices, and overall health. In the end children are the backbone of tomorrow’s society, so there is not just an urgency, but it is our duty to provide a nourishing environment in every way possible, starting with the most literal sense of making sure every child has access to a good and healthy meal.

Author: Devin Bayer, Editor: Nicole Stiegeler