Increase in mental health care in UK children, but why no mention of nutrition?

NHS figures released in October 2016 reveal that almost a quarter of a million UK school children are receiving mental health care. However, statements and reports on the alarming figures make no mention of the role of nutrition. 

So, let’s put the record straight.

Children's mental health

Nourishment begins in the womb during pregnancy and depends entirely on the diet of the mother. The studies carried out by Professor Michael Crawford, Imperial College London (President of the Mother and Child Foundation and consultant to the World Health Organization (WHO) and governments worldwide) over several decades provide evidence that a lack of omega 3s and other nutrients in the mother’s system can impact the brain development and mental health of the baby.

As far back as 1972 Dr. Crawford predicted the rise of brain disorders would eclipse all other health concerns. His prediction is now our reality. The Department of Health recently revealed that mental health disorders, at an estimated cost in 2013 of £113 billion, have overtaken all other burdens of ill-health including cardiovascular disease, obesity and cancer combined.

Children and babies are the most vulnerable.

  • 1 in 5 children in every classroom is now identified as having some type of learning or behavioral difficulty. Our studies show that these often start in the womb as a result of poor maternal nutrition.
  • Children born with learning or behavioral issues such as dyslexia or ADHD have a greater risk of developing anxiety, depression and stress than their non-diagnosed counterparts.
  • Unhealthy diet after birth further increases the risk of physical health complications, including eating disorders, obesity and metabolic syndrome which can lead to Type 2 diabetes and more serious health issues and diseases later in life.
  • Prescriptions for psycho-stimulant medications as a means to control hyperactive, impulsive and inattentive symptoms have increased almost three-fold in the last decade.

Scientists across fields such as biochemistry, molecular psychiatry and nutritional neuroscience are aware that what you eat directly impacts your brain and your child’s brain at a molecular level, with the capability of altering both its structure and function. Scientific studies prove that nutritious foods can positively influence our brain function, promoting outcomes such as faster and more efficient cell-signalling, and improved mood. Conversely, the wrong foods can promote inflammation, leaving the brain exposed to toxins and vulnerable to dysfunction, degeneration and disease from the womb onwards.

Type B malnutrition

In 2002, WHO predicted that a new type of malnutrition called Type B would lead to a 50% increase in child mental-ill health by 2020. Type B malnutrition can be summarised as the depletion of multiple micronutrients, following in the wake of the globalisation of Western-style diets. WHO also advised that the increase in child obesity and Type 2 diabetes could be attributed to an increase in sedentary lifestyle and an excessive consumption of foods rich in salt, sugar, and saturated fats.

Fried chicken is a staple for many kidsScientists have proved a significant association between diseases of the mind and diseases of the body. Children living on a diet of chicken tenders, fries, pizza and sugary sodas have brains starved of essential omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Young people are over-exposed to such processed and refined foods, packed full with saturated fats, elevated amounts of sodium, sugar, artificial additives such as high-fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, preservatives and chemicals, all ingested during critical periods of brain development.

Through research and education we must get to the point where nutritional content is the main focus of the debate. Our scientific studies have repeatedly shown that healthy foods and exercise are the nutritional game-changers, enhancing cognitive performance, switching on attention, improving mood and social skills and ultimately increasing IQ.

See Professor Crawford’s response to this issue here.


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