The impact of nutrition on physical and mental health


As students reach the halfway point in the term, they tend to feel a sense of burnout and stress due to exams and assignments. In order to prevent these feelings and persevere through the home stretch, it is important for students to actively maintain a healthy lifestyle — starting with proper nutrition.

However, this isn’t always as easy as it seems. 

According to a 2018 study published in the Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute (MDPI), students transitioning into post-secondary education tend to develop unhealthy habits, like poor nutritional choices, at the beginning of the academic term. Various studies reviewed as part of “College Students and Eating Habits: A Study Using An Ecological Model for Healthy Behavior” have shown that students attending university tend to gain more weight than young adults not enrolled in school.

The study also examines how poor food choices, along with other unhealthy choices like smoking and consuming alcohol, result in lower GPAs among students. 

Students are usually short on time and often choose the fastest and easiest options. However, these options are typically of low nutritional value — foods like ramen, pizza and most options at fast-food restaurants are unlikely to provide the energy a student needs. A diet consisting of poor food choices can result in malnutrition, which leads to increased tiredness, lower grades and an increased risk for illnesses and mental health disorders. By contrast, “brain foods” like blueberries, leafy green

s and nuts are more likely to provide the nutrition needed for improved focus and memory, both of which might aid a student in their academic pursuits. 

Furthermore, consistently consuming food that has a low nutritional value can result in lower body immunity resulting in a greater risk of illness. An article published in the “The Nutrition Source” for the Harvard School of Public Health lists poor diet as one of the factors leading to decreased immunity. According to the study, “malnutrition or a diet lacking in one or more nutrients can impair the production and activity of immune cells and antibodies.” 

Weight gain caused by an unhealthy diet consisting of refined sugar, processed foods and dietary fats can also negatively impact students’ performance. According to a 2008 study published in the Journal of School Health, these foods combined with an inadequate intake of fruits, vegetables and whole grains can lead to unhealthy weight gain and obesity, which can contribute to low self-esteem. 

In several studies, the effect of low self-esteem has been positively correlated with poor grades. Someone with low self-esteem is less likely to have the drive to learn and may have decreased focus. Low self-esteem can also give rise to depression and anxiety, both of which negatively affect academic performance. 

Further, a systematic review conducted by Dr. Adrienne O’Neil on the “Relationship Between Diet and Mental Health in Children and Adolescents” also shows an invariable overlap in poor diet and increased mental health issues, regardless of changes in weight. This review covered 12 epidemiological studies to determine if there was a correlation between a person’s diet and academic performance. Ultimately, the review found strong evidence suggesting a cross-sectional relationship between unhealthy dietary intake and poor mental health in children and adolescents. 

Specifically, the review concluded that an unhealthy diet high in fats and refined sugars increases oxidative stress as well as inflammation within the body. These two physiological conditions are related to the presence of common mental disorders like depression and anxiety. 

Given how important diet is to students’ academic performance as well as their overall health and wellbeing, it is crucial that students prioritize eating well and integrate healthy habits into their daily lives.