“Adolescents may need to increase their fruit and vegetable intake and reduce unhealthy options like sugary drinks and takeaways, to protect their mental health,” reports a press release from New Zealand’s University of Auckland. According to the release, epidemiologist and nutritionist Boyd Swinburn led a study of a large, ethnically diverse adolescent population in Auckland, and found that adolescents on a diet high in junk food had lower scores on common mental health tests, while those on a diet high in healthy foods had higher scores.
“There has been a dramatic increase in the amount of ultra-processed, unhealthy food in our food system and it is a very real question whether this is an important driver of the parallel rise in the prevalence of adolescent depression,” Swinburn said in the press release.
The University of Auckland study found that a diet high in junk food or low in healthy food produced test score differences of 3.3 points and 5.4 points. “To put that in perspective, others have found similar differences in emotional scores using the same scales between healthy adolescents and those with gastrointestinal disease (5.38 reduction), cardiac disease (5.55 reduction), end-stage renal disease (4.17 reduction), and obesity (3.80 reduction). The size of these potential effects of diet on mental health is certainly not trivial,” Swinburn said. He suggested that more formal clinical trials should be done.
Healthy diet vital for adolescent mental health (University of Auckland Press Release, August 8, 2014)