Following a healthy diet brings a lot of benefits. First, it helps manage your weight. Second, it improves your health condition. Third, it can help prevent certain diseases. However, this list appeared to be incomprehensive: Swedish scientists report that those children who are provided with healthy food are more likely to be happy and have better well-being.
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What following guidelines brings you
How many times a week does your child eat salads, fruits and nuts? What about sugar intake? And have you ever thought of substituting natural juices for soft drinks? A recent study carried out by a team of investigators working at the University of Gothenburg has provided new insight into the association between eating patterns and child happiness and well-being. As the researchers reported, the more a child sticks to the healthy diet recommended by the state, the more benefits there are: those who follow dietary guidelines are less likely to experience being bullied and emotional problems and be unhappy.
The team examined the physical and psychological health of more than 7.600 children from eight countries, including Spain, Sweden, Italy, Belgium, Hungary, Germany, Estonia and Cyprus. The participating children (at the beginning of the project) were aged 2-9 years, and their eating patterns varied to a great extent. To assess their eating habits, the researchers used a special scale known as HDAS, which stands for Healthy Dietary Adherence Score.
This score is designed to reflect what kinds of food are generally consumed by a person, and determine whether he or she follows the dietary recommendations issued in the country. In the countries the recommendations of which were used in the study, these guidelines were almost similar and implied limiting fat (with saturated fat to be avoided) and refined sugar intake and increasing vegetable and fruit consumption. The score can capture what aspects of these guidelines are followed and which ones are neglected.
The score of the participants correlated with their emotional and psychological state. The children whose score was high at the first stage of the study proved to be happier at the second project stage, e.g. two years later, when their emotional and physical development was reported by their parents. Higher HDAS appeared to mean fewer communication issues experienced when interacting with peers, and better self-esteem, the investigators report. Surprisingly, there was no link between being overweight or fit and being happy: the above mentioned correlation was seen in both overweight/obese children and those who had normal BMI. Besides, the socioeconomic position of the families did not seem to affect the results.
Different aspects of dieting correlated with different aspects of well-being: limiting sugar intake resulted in better self-esteem; those participants who consumed enough veggies and fruits had fewer problems communicating with peers; limiting fat proved to correlate with fewer emotional issues, etc. The well-being rate proved to be higher when the overall score was high.
However, the research cannot be used to make any conclusions about the correlations and whether there is actually a link between the figures, because the basis for it was self-reported data provided by the parents, which does not necessarily mean it is objective. Besides, some of those who followed a poor diet and those with poor self-reported well-being dropped out, so the study does not provide accurate data related to this group of participants.
The researchers note that in order to determine whether there is a causal relationship between levels of happiness and following a healthy diet, experimental studies are needed. Such studies would include children diagnosed with depression or other problems and rely on substantiated data instead of parents’ evidence.
Bidirectional associations between psychosocial well-being and adherence to healthy dietary guidelines in European children: prospective findings from the IDEFICS study – BmcPublicHealth.BiomedCentral.com
Nutrition for kids: Guidelines for a healthy diet – MayoClinic.org
Healthy eating: What young children need – BBCGoodFood.com