Mental health and academic achievement of Finnish university students according to their diet types

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http://urn.fi/URN:NBN:fi:hulib-202104071840
Title: Mental health and academic achievement of Finnish university students according to their diet types
Author: Ansung, Kim
Contributor: University of Helsinki, Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry
Publisher: Helsingin yliopisto
Date: 2021
URI: http://urn.fi/URN:NBN:fi:hulib-202104071840
http://hdl.handle.net/10138/328777
Thesis level: master's thesis
Abstract: Understanding the relationship between plant-based diets and mental health has become an important issue from a public health perspective, not only for researchers but also in everyday life. In particular, this study focused on university students since more and more students have been limiting their animal-based foods intake. At the same time, there has been a global trend of increasing mental disorders and distress among university students. Poor mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety, could associate with students' academic achievement. This study examined the connections between diet choice, mental health, and academic achievement. This study used cross-sectional data from the Student Health Survey 2016 by the Finnish Student Health Service (FSHS). Among 3029 participants (aged 18 to 35 years) from either academic universities or universities of applied sciences in Finland, the questions from the Index of Diet Quality (IDQ) were used to construct four different diet types: 67 vegans (2.2%), 281 vegetarians (9.3%), 291 semi-vegetarians (9.6%), and 2390 omnivores (78.9%). Mental health status was measured by using two indicators: self-reported diagnosed mental disorders (depression and/or anxiety) and the General Health Questionnaire-12 (GHQ-12), which screened minor psychiatric disorders. Academic achievement was measured by asking about perceived academic success. The logistic regression models were used in the main analyses. The two different mental health status were analysed with adjustment for potential confounding variables such as sociodemographic factors, health-related behaviour, BMI, and disease conditions. The academic achievement was analysed with adjustment for potential confounding variables such as sociodemographic factors, health-related behaviour, BMI, disease conditions, enrolment period, and right field of study. Also, this study further examined the association between food groups and academic achievement. The results showed that compared to the omnivorous diet, the vegetarian diet was associated with higher odds of diagnosed mental disorders (OR [95% CI]: 2.74 [1.80–4.16], p<0.001) and minor psychiatric disorders screened by GHQ-12 (OR [95% CI]: 1.68[1.22–2.30], p<0.001) after adjustment for all potential confounders. Although a positive relationship between fish consumption and academic achievement was found (OR [95% CI]: .88[.80–.96], p<0.01), there was no statistically significant association between diet types and academic achievement. In addition, higher sweets consumption was related to higher odds of being less successful than students had expected (OR [95% CI]: 1.08 [1.01–1.15], p<0.05). The results indicate that vegetarian university students are more likely to have lower mental health status than non-vegetarian students on average. In addition, academic achievement is associated with the consumption of specific food items rather than diet types. Overall, the findings suggest that vegetarian students should carefully monitor their mental health status. Also, students should be supported to improve their food choice and dietary quality for their academic achievement. The study results can be implicated in public health interventions to improve students' well-being among higher education students. In future research, it may be beneficial to apply more various classifications and measures of diet types and academic achievement and examine the temporal relationship between diagnosed mental disorders and the diet chosen.
Subject: plant-based diet
vegetarian
vegan
depression
mental disorders
academic achievement


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