“We found individuals with better quality diets were less likely to be depressed, whereas a higher intake of processed and unhealthy foods was associated with increased anxiety”

I find it challenging that the tireder I feel (usually towards the end of a term), the greater the temptation to eat junk food and choose unhealthy options. It seems that a little weakness of the mind and fatigue usually proceeds physical weakness, in the form of poor diet choices. Those fast food signs seem to be extra bright and attractive on the long, late drive home.

For some time now researchers have understood how dietary changes have impacted physical health. Unfortunately, there’s been relatively little research into the effect of nutrition on scholastic performance in young adults.

However that is starting to change, and what is becoming more evident is how what we eat affects brain power. The composition of fast foods means our western diets see high overall intakes of fats, saturated fats, sodium and refined sugar. Lacking are some significant micronutrients such as folate and iron. Research is starting to find that such a major imbalance, particularly during the adolescent developing years, can result in inhibited thinking skills and overall academic performance.

Due to the successful development (addictive properties) and marketing (emotional appeal) of food products, there has been a staggering increase in obesity – seen now among our youth. Common non-infectious illnesses, many driven by poor diets, are now the leading cause of death worldwide. More frightening is the realisation that unhealthy diets may also be contributing to poor mental health. It is only now the effect on mental well-being is being realised (Jacka F, Deakin University 2014).

In Australia, as elsewhere, nearly half of the population will experience a mental health problem at some point in their lives. This means even people who are not personally affected are likely to know someone who has experienced such an illness.

When it comes to what we eat, research reveals; 1) depression and dementia are affected by the quality of our diets across the life course, 2) people whose diets are healthier are less likely to experience depression, 3) people who eat more unhealthy and junk foods are at increased risk of depression. This seems to be the case in adolescents also.

It’s becoming clear that common physical and mental illnesses co-occur and are likely mutually reinforcing. Poor diet can lead to anxiety and depression, which in turn leads to poor diet.

Associate Professor Dr.Felice Jacka of Melbourne’s Deakin University, suggests it may be possible to prevent teenage depression by ensuring adolescent diets are sufficiently nutritious, and improving diet quality may help treat depressive symptoms in this population (Jacka F, 2014).

As parents, the repercussions of what our children eat are huge. In the rush and busyness of life, it is often easiest to throw them some money, or grab quick and easy alternatives, that are often highly processed. Our challenge is to develop healthy eating habits in our children from as early as possible. The next generation depends on it.

Ben Stiller

Week 3 News