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January 2011



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First Published Monday, 1 June 2009

Liz Chester & Tammy Gibbs

A study from the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research has shown a link between Western-style diets and more mental health problems in teenagers.

The research paper has been published online in the journal Preventive Medicine.

Report author and leader of Nutrition studies at the Institute, Dr Wendy Oddy, said the results were based on detailed analysis of diet records and behavior checklists that were collected from more than 1600 West Australian 14-year-olds in the Raine Cohort Study.

Our analysis found that higher levels of behavior and emotional problems were associated with a more Western-style way of eating, namely a diet high in takeaway foods, red meat, confectionary, soft drinks, white bread and unrefined cereals,” Dr Oddy said.

We also showed that these problems were less among teens with a more healthier style of eating, specifically those who ate more fruit and vegetables.

This suggests that if we want to reduce the high rates of mental health problems among young people, then improving their overall diet could be a good place to start.

The study participants’ food intake was assessed using a 212-item food frequency questionnaire. The Child Behaviour Checklist was used to assess internalizing mental health problems, such as withdrawn and depressed behaviors, and externalizing mental health problems, such as delinquent and aggressive behaviors.

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

We know that since 1985, children and teenagers have been increasing their energy intake by consuming more soft drinks and processed foods. The number of overweight adolescents has doubled and obesity has tripled in that age group. At the same time there have been marked increases in sedentary behaviors such as TV viewing and computer use,” Dr Oddy said.

Investigating factors that influence mental health in young people must be a high priority. These findings show that there is a need to look at the overall diet, rather than concentrate on individual nutrients.

Oddy WH, Robinson M, Ambrosini GL, et al. The association between dietary patterns and mental health in early adolescence. Prev Med. 2009 May 23;doi:10.1016/j.ypmed.2009.05.009   [Abstract]

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