Existing scientific hypothesis states that children's academic performance during puberty may be affected by emotional disturbance, which is possibly mitigated by the quality of one's diet.
Based on this, researchers at the country's National Health Research Institutes, National Defense Medical Center, Monash Asia Institute, and China Medical University assessed a nationally representative sample of 1,371 Taiwanese youth aged 11 to 16 for overall competence at school and emotional disturbance.
The researchers took their sample from the Nutrition and Health Survey in Taiwan (NAHSIT), and the students' parents provided information on family socio-demographics. The students themselves completed the Youth Healthy Eating Index (YHEI-TW), a dietary and behavioural questionnaire.
They observed that both boys and girls who exhibited emotional disturbance had a "less favourable overall competence at school".
In addition, they wrote that behavioural and socio-economic factors, such as smoking, screen-viewing, parental income and reading were modulators of diet quality's influence on the link between poor academic performance and emotional disturbance.
Furthermore, other factors, such as parental characteristics, body fatness and personal behaviours were found to be associated with overall competence at school.
For girls in particular, poor diet quality was reported to be linked to emotional disturbance, and puberty was a modifying factor.
More needed for policy and practice
The researchers wrote that the evidence in the study revolved around predominantly Chinese children, and that intervention studies to back up these results would 'add confidence' to policy and practice designed to improve general school performance through dietary means.
They added that "in the meantime, household, school and community encouragement for healthier dietary patterns should be a low-risk, high-benefit option".
"The most supportable link of dietary quality to overall competence at school is apparently direct rather than through emotional disturbance, to which it is also related in the present study."
They further stated that though emotional disturbance and overall competence at school were linked, and consuming foods of limited nutritional value is evident in emotional disturbance, the association between the emotional disturbance and overall competence at school was "minimally dependent on dietary quality".
They concluded: "For both genders, socio-economic (factors), parental education, reading or screen-viewing, and smoking were associated with emotional disturbance and overall competence at school.
"These factors may modulate the association between emotional disturbance and overall competence at school. Thus, the ways by which diet may affect overall competence at school as a basis of school performance are likely to be complex."
Source: Nutrition Journal
"Dietary quality linkage to overall competence at school and emotional disturbance in representative Taiwanese young adolescents: dependence on gender, parental characteristics and personal behaviors"
Authors: Lin-Yuan Huang, et al.