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Research on eating and depression

In this article we look at some studies which explore the relationship between diet and mood in young people.
© University of Reading

A number of studies have explored the relationship between diet and mood in young people. Here are two examples:

One project (1) examined the diets of over seven thousand Australian children aged between ten to fourteen years old. After accounting for differences in family income, activity levels, age, gender and many other factors, the researchers found a strong association between the quality of the diet young people ate, and their mood. Young people with the least-healthy diet reported the highest symptoms of depression, and those with the best diets reported the fewest symptoms of depression. A similar study (2) found that in a group of three thousand adolescents from London, children with the least healthy diets were more than twice as likely to have symptoms of depression.

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It’s important to interpret research findings with caution. These studies are unable to conclude whether poor diet causes low mood – it could just be that happier young people seek out healthier diets, and unhappier young people seek out unhealthy diets. For example, when we’re feeling low, we can often crave sugary, comfort foods, as they give us the ‘hit’ of energy. However, the energy from the sugary snacks doesn’t tend to last long, which could lead to eating these snacks more frequently and consuming bigger portions.

References

1) Jacka, F. N., Kremer, P. J., Leslie, E. R., Berk, M., Patton, G. C., Toumbourou, J. W., & Williams, J. W. (2010). Associations between diet quality and depressed mood in adolescents: results from the Australian Healthy Neighbourhoods Study. Australian & New Zealand journal of psychiatry, 44(5), 435-442. Please note this journal article is behind a paywall.

2) Jacka, F. N., Rothon, C., Taylor, S., Berk, M., & Stansfeld, S. A. (2013). Diet quality and mental health problems in adolescents from East London: a prospective study. Social psychiatry and psychiatric epidemiology, 48(8), 1297-1306. Please note this journal article is behind a paywall.

© University of Reading
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Understanding Depression and Low Mood in Young People

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