Mental health disorders tend to be pretty chronic and can be debilitating. And, unlike many chronic diseases of Western Civilization, they tend to strike young. Autism in babyhood, anxiety disorders often before age 10, mood disorder in the teens, schizophrenia in the late teens and early adulthood… psychiatric disorders cost us so much in terms of productivity and health.
Y'all already know what I think. (Donnie Darko, Mad World right click to open in new tab).
There is every reason to believe a modern, processed, nutrient-poor diet could have a lot of influence on mental health. Of course, no one knows what to tell anyone to eat except for "fruits and vegetables." And that is what PLOS1 tells us today…
A Prospective Study of Diet Quality and Mental Health in Adolescents
In this study, several thousand Australian adolescents filled out surveys about diet, health, and mental health several years apart.
Here is how diet quality was assessed:
As such, a point was allotted for each of the following: eating breakfast at home on school days; eating lunch brought from home; consuming two or more fruit serves per day; four or more vegetable serves per day; fruit and/or sandwiches as after school snacks; generally avoiding biscuits, potato chips, pies, hot chips, fried foods, chocolate, sweets, ice-creams as after school snacks; and, finally, both consuming healthy after school snacks and avoiding unhealthy after school snacks.(Chocolate????)
It is not terribly surprising that an unhealthy diet score in the first survey correlated with a poorer rating of mental health in the second survey several years later. Covariates were assessed for but can never really be extinguished completely… interestingly, mental health at baseline did not predict diet several years later, strengthening the findings of the study.
But I rather love these researchers, and will quote some of the interpretation in full here:
...the prevalence of emotional and conduct problems in adolescents increased in the period between the mid 1970's and 1999, while a new meta-analysis, reporting on data collected at many time points and, thus, free of confounding by age and/or recall bias, has reported large generational increases in self-reported psychopathology in American high school and college students between the 1930s and 2007. These increases did not appear to be explained by social response biases, economic cycles or changes in student populations, and the authors concluded that changes in unidentified cultural factors have resulted in increased rates of psychopathology among American youth.
Paralleling this possible increase in the rates of psychological illness among young people are data indicating a reduction in the quality of adolescents' diets over recent decades. A report based on trends in adolescent food consumption in the US identified a reduction in the consumption of raw fruits, high-nutrient vegetables and dairy foods, which are important sources of fibre and essential nutrients, between 1965 and 1996, with an associated increase in the consumption of fast food, snacks and sweetened beverages. Concurrently, population surveys demonstrate a substantial increase in overweight and obesity among children and adolescents over recent decades. Obesity does not necessarily indicate nutritional repletion, as high-energy foods typically have poor nutrient content.Could it all be connected? Increasing muffin tops and increasing psych hospitalizations in children and increasing psychopathology? And how expensive is it to society when a lean cuisine is the epitome of healthy eating?
A very very mad world indeed.