Poor diet means poor mental health
Following a healthy diet is in everyone’s best interest, according to a Californian study that found poor mental health is linked with an unhealthy diet, regardless of personal characteristics such as gender, education, age, marital status and income level.
Researchers at Loma Linda University School of Public Health found that Californian adults who consumed more unhealthy food were more likely to report symptoms of either moderate (MPD) or severe psychological distress (SPD) than their peers who consume a healthier diet.
They reviewed data from more than 240,000 telephone surveys conducted between 2005 and 2015 as part of the multiyear California Health Interview Survey (CHIS). The CHIS dataset includes extensive information about socio-demographics, health status and health behaviours, and was designed to provide state-wide approximations for regions within California and for various ethnic groups.
Published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, the study found that 13.2% of Californian adults suffer from MPD and 3.7% with SPD, both of which were associated with lower consumption of fruits and vegetables, and increased consumption of French fries, fast food and soda.
Associate Professor Jim E Banta, lead author of the study, said the results are similar to previous studies around the world that have found a link between mental illness and a poor diet, but he warned it is not a causal relationship. For example, increased sugar consumption has been found to be associated with bipolar disorder, and consumption of fried or sugary foods and processed grains has been linked with depression.
The findings from the study could affect the approaches that healthcare providers administer for behavioural medicine treatments.
“This and other studies like it could have big implications for treatments in behavioural medicine,” Banta said. “Perhaps the time has come for us to take a closer look at the role of diet in mental health, because it could be that healthy diet choices contribute to mental health. More research is needed before we can answer definitively, but the evidence seems to be pointing in that direction.”
The study stated that the team’s findings provide “additional evidence that public policy and clinical practice should more explicitly aim to improve diet quality among those struggling with mental health”. It also stated that “dietary interventions for people with mental illness should especially target young adults, those with less than 12 years of education and obese individuals”.
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