Little is known about the influence of people’s diet on their psychological well-being. This study provides evidence of a link between the consumption of fruit and vegetables and high well-being. In cross-sectional data, happiness and mental health rise in an approximately dose–response way with the number of daily portions of fruit and vegetables. Well-being peaks at approximately 7 portions per day. We document this relationship in three data sets, covering approximately 80,000 randomly selected British individuals, and for seven measures of well-being (life satisfaction, WEMWBS mental well-being, GHQ mental disorders, self-reported health, happiness, nervousness, and feeling low). The pattern is robust to adjustment for a large number of other demographic, social and economic variables. Reverse causality and problems of confounding remain possible. We discuss the strengths and weaknesses of our analysis, how government policy-makers might wish to react to it, and what kinds of further research—especially randomized trials—would be valuable.
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Appendix: Data Description
Appendix: Data Description
Scottish Health Survey
|GHQ mental ill-being||10.7911||5.0023|
One portion of fruit and vegetables is 80 g of any fruit or vegetable as defined by the Department of Health. A portion of fruit includes orange juice.
Life Satisfaction Question
All things considered, how satisfied are you with your life as a whole nowadays?
Self-Reported Health Question
How is your health in general? Would you say it was
2 bad, or
1 very bad?
Welsh Health Survey 2008
|Downhearted and low||1.9329||1.0136|
These questions are about how you feel and how things have been with you during the past 4 weeks. For each question, please give the one answer that comes closest to the way you have been feeling. How much of the time during the past 4 weeks. (1) Have you been happy? (2) Have you been very nervous? (3) Have you felt downhearted and low?—none of the time; a little of the time; some of the time; most of the time; all of the time?
Health Survey of England, 2008
In the GHQ measure, individuals answer 12 separate mental-distress questions: “Have you lost much sleep over worry?”; “Been able to concentrate on things?”; “Felt you are playing a useful part in things?”; “Felt capable of making decisions about things?”; “Felt constantly under strain?”; “Felt you could not overcome your difficulties?”; “Been able to enjoy your normal day-to-day activities”; “Been able to face up to your problems”; “Been feeling unhappy and depressed?”; “Been losing confidence in yourself?”; “Been thinking of yourself as a worthless person?”; “Been feeling reasonably happy all things considered?”. People in the surveys are asked to answer on a scale from ‘much more than usual’ down to ‘much less than usual’.
Portions of fruit and vegetables per day (% of the population)
|>0 portion but less than 2||0.171|
|2 portions or more but less than 3||0.166|
|3 portions or more but less than 4||0.169|
|4 portions or more but less than 5||0.139|
|5 portions or more but less than 6||0.116|
|6 portions or more but less than 7||0.072|
|7 portions or more but less than 8||0.043|
|8 portions or more||0.070|
WEMWBS Well-being Survey Questions
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Blanchflower, D.G., Oswald, A.J. & Stewart-Brown, S. Is Psychological Well-Being Linked to the Consumption of Fruit and Vegetables?. Soc Indic Res 114, 785–801 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-012-0173-y
- Subjective well-being
- Healthy food
- Mental health