Junk food diet influences mental health in young people

According to Australian researchers teenagers who consume plenty of fruit and vegetables have fewer mental health problems.

A new study by researchers at the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research in Perth, involved more than 1,600 Australian 14-year-olds and was based on diet records and behaviour checklists - the results suggest a link between Western-style diets and mental health problems in teenagers.

The teenagers are part of the Raine Cohort Study which is an ongoing health research project which started in 1989 through to 1991.

During their pregnancy 2,900 mothers were enrolled and over the past 18 years they, and their children, have remained involved in the project and have provided scientists with environmental, developmental and health information.

This information has become a unique and valuable resource for scientists to research a wide range of health areas and the author of this latest study Dr. Wendy Oddy says their analysis found that higher levels of behaviour and emotional problems were associated with a more Western-style diet high in takeaway foods, red meat, confectionary, soft drinks, white bread and unrefined cereals.

Dr. Oddy, the leader of Nutrition studies at the Institute, says their results also showed that these problems were less among teens with a more healthier style of eating, specifically those who ate more fruit and vegetables and says this suggests that improving their overall diet might reduce the high rates of mental health problems among young people.

For the study the participants' food intake was assessed using a 212-item food frequency questionnaire and the Child Behaviour Checklist was used to assess internalising mental health problems, such as withdrawn and depressed behaviours, and externalising mental health problems, such as delinquent and aggressive behaviours.

Dr. Oddy says previous studies have shown that one in five children can be expected to develop some form of mental health problem by the time they reach adulthood, and 50% of all adult mental health problems develop during adolescence.

She says it has been known since 1985 that children and teenagers have been increasing their energy intake by consuming more soft drinks and processed foods and the number of overweight adolescents has doubled and obesity has tripled in that age group and at the same time there have been marked increases in sedentary behaviours such as TV viewing and computer use.

Dr. Oddy believes research into factors that influence mental health in young people must have a much higher priority and says their findings show that there is a need to look at the overall diet, rather than concentrate on individual nutrients.

The research is published online in the international journal Preventive Medicine.

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