Healthier habits make happier kids, according to a new study published by the University of Alberta.
Kara Loewen, research coordinator and lead author, said the more healthy lifestyle habits are in place, the less likely young people are to seek help with mental health.
“(The study) has potential to have a really good impact on children's mental health,” she said.
The research found young people should not only eat healthy, but also have time limits around usage of electronic devices, get ample activity and sleep well.
In total, the study outlined nine healthy habits. The more habits that were formed, the better the mental health outcomes among young people.
Youth who met four to six lifestyle recommendations made 39 per cent fewer mental health visits to their doctor than youth who met only one to three recommendations. Those who had seven to nine habits resulted in 56 per cent fewer visits.
“On average, kids only met 5.3 out of the nine recommendations,” she said. “It does show that there's huge room for improvement.”
Loewen took research collected in Nova Scotia, which she said was the province with the largest amount of data collected on mental health and healthy habits.
“Originally all of these recommendations were designed for children's physical development in their physical health to avoid chronic diseases. But when we apply the exact same recommendations to mental health, we see that there's huge benefits,” she explained.
She said all the research was individually collected, such as the impact physical exercise has on mental health and youth, as well as healthy eating and mental health.
She combined all the research to create the study, so that researchers and policy makers would have a more comprehensive understanding of mental health and lifestyle habits.
Jenn Flynn, executive director of APPLE Schools, said she’s excited about the study.
“It's exciting to me, because often schools are looking at a variety of needs for wellness,” she said. “We now know that ... healthy eating, physical activity, screen time and sleep has a strong effect on mental health as well.”
APPLE Schools is a health program that helps schools achieve healthy eating, physical activity and mental health habits. Flynn, a former St. Albert resident, won Avenue Magazine's Top 40 under 40 for her work with APPLE Schools last year.
According to Flynn, the study will help initiatives like APPLE Schools thrive.
“It's really impactful to have research that shows the wellness programming, the health promotion supports that are in place – and need to continue to be in place – will contribute beyond just the physical health and into the mental health needs,” she said.
Loewen hopes the study will lead to more awareness around healthy eating and that doctors will jump on board with helping parents put more of the habits into play.
The nine habits include:
- Six or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day
- Six or more servings of grain products per day
- Three servings of protein each day
- Three servings of milk per day
- Reduce the amount of sugar intake by 10 per cent of overall daily energy intake
- Less than 10 per cent of saturated fat intake for total daily energy intake each day
- 60 minutes of activity each day
- Less than two hours each day of screen time
- 11 hours of uninterrupted sleep at night