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Oct 20, 2011

More Research Supporting Link Between Diet and Mental Health

When it comes to mental health, there is stacking evidence that diet plays a significant role.  In a recent Australian study published online in PLoS One, researchers investigated the link between better diet and better mental health in adolescents.  

Mental health in young people is a topic that warrants serious attention since about 75% of lifetime psychiatric disorders typically emerge in the teenage or early adult years.  A recent national survey focusing on teens between the ages of 13 and 18 revealed that over 22% of them had experienced some clinically-significant problem related to mental health.        

Pursuing their interest in the relationship between diet and mental health in young people, researchers collected data in the form of a survey from more than 2,000 teens regarding nutrition, mental health, physical activity, and perception of both home and school environment.  At the beginning of the study, all participants were between the ages of 11 and 18 years.  Data was collected in 2005-2006 and repeated in 2007-2008.  Researchers assigned diet scores to participants based on the quality of their diet, where a healthy diet included one with 2 or more servings of fruit daily, 4 or more servings of vegetables daily, and avoidance of processed foods like chips, fried food, sweets, chocolate, and ice cream.  An unhealthy diet was defined as one high in processed foods.  Researchers correlated the assigned diet scores to the emotional functioning subscale of the Pediatric Quality of Life Inventory, a tool used to assess children’s mental health.  

Results of this study show that over a 2-year period, the teens who were able to make improvements in their diet experienced parallel improvements in mental health.  Mental health status deteriorated in teens whose diets became of lower quality over time.  Dr. Felice Jacka, PhD and principal investigator for this particular study as well as several similar studies, points out that teenage depression may be prevented through nutritious diet.  “In this study we show that a good quality diet at baseline predicts better mental health at follow-up, even after adjustments for diet quality at follow-up, sociodemographic variables, exercise, and most importantly, mental health at baseline.”   

Dr. Shana McQueen