Healthy diet may prevent adolescent mental health problems

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 23rd September 2011

Health researchers at Deakin University, Victoria, have announced findings that suggest a poor diet may be a risk factor for mental health problems during adolescence.

The findings, published this week in the journal PLoS One, suggest diet quality can be used to predict mental health in adolescents over time.  For the study, the researchers analysed data collected from over 3000 Australian adolescents in 2005 and again in 2007.

Participants filled in detailed questionnaires about their normal diets and their psychological symptoms. Other factors which may be associated with both diet quality and mental health, such as the socioeconomic status of the family, age, gender, physical activity levels, dieting behaviours and weight, were also taken into account.

Dr Felice Jacka from Deakin University’s Barwon Psychiatric Research Unit led the study. She said, “On average, adolescents whose diets improved over the two year period experienced an improvement in mental health over that time. In contrast, those adolescents whose dietary quality deteriorated over a two year period experienced an associated deterioration in mental health. This wasn’t explained by changes in physical activity levels or weight.

“Once an individual experiences depression, they are more likely to experience it again. This new evidence suggests that it might be possible to prevent some cases of depression developing in the first place by ensuring that the diets of adolescents are sufficiently nutritious.”

The Deakin University researchers also noted that the relationship between diet quality and mental health did not seem to work the other way.