Food Matters: Mental Health and Our Kids

Amy Rothenberg ND
4 min readOct 1, 2021
Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

As a doctor who likes to keep up on research, I am sometimes struck by the kinds of things we are studying. Before naturopathic medical school, I had a paid internship in a research lab. My job was in part, to walk pregnant pygmy goats on a treadmill, I kid you not, in the process of trying to prove the hypothesis that exercise was good in pregnancy. I learned a lot about keeping records, paying attention to detail, using objective measurements and more, but the whole time I kept thinking to myself, why are we testing this? Isn’t it obvious that exercise is good in pregnancy?

I felt the same way when I read a recent report from BMJ Prevention, Nutrition and Health Journal, which reports that children and teens who eat regular breakfast and lunch and who choose more fruits and vegetables, have better mental health. It was a long-term study on thousands of kids and used accepted standards of assessment of mental health to draw its clear conclusions.

So, while to me, these results are not surprising, I am happy this study was done, because it underscores the role that consistent and healthy food choices play, not just for physical health, but also for mental health, not just for adults, but also for children. And we know that poor mental health in childhood predicts poor mental health throughout life. There are many factors that go into mental health from genetics, to demographic factors, to numerous modifiable lifestyle choices, including those related to food.

In this case, appreciating quantified research results, can help inform public policy about food and nutrition as it relates to children and teens, and will hopefully inspire organizations to create, and sustain as many programs and offer as many resources as can be mustered, to help educate children, teens, parents, teachers and policy makers about the essential role of eating regularly, and making good food choices.

This study underscores that such efforts are key and worth the cost for the development of good mental health in our kids and young people. The U.S. Department of Agriculture will continue to support free meals to all students regardless of family income throughout this 2021–22 school year, which is a good thing as the pandemic has impacted income, access to food, and regular meals for so many families. This…

Amy Rothenberg ND

American Association of Naturopathic Physician’s 2017 Physician of the Year. Teacher, writer and advocate for healthy living.