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Poor Diets can hurt Children’s Mental Health

Update Date: Nov 07, 2014 02:21 PM EST

Researchers have repeatedly found evidence that tied unhealthy diets to physical health problems, such as obesity, in children. However, not as many studies have been conducted to examine the effects that a poor diet can have on mental health. According to a new systematic research review, the team reported that a diet high in saturated fats, refined carbohydrates and processed foods could be linked to depressive symptoms and low moods.

"Our findings highlight the potential importance of the relationship between dietary patterns or quality and mental health early in the life span," the researchers wrote.

For this study, the researchers headed by Adrienne O'Neil, Ph.D., of the School of Medicine at Deakin University in Australia, reviewed 12 studies that included almost 83,000 children between the ages of four-and-a-half and 18. These studies used several different kinds of scales when measuring mental health and dietary intake. Some of them included the Child Behavior Checklist, the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire and the Food Frequency Questionnaire.

The researchers were able to link unhealthy diets to poor mental health statuses. They added that since mental health problems, such as anxiety and mood disorders, tend to manifest between the ages of six and 13, early interventions could be highly beneficial.

"This systematic review assessed the relationship between children's dietary intake and mental health by evaluating the level of evidence of cross-sectional studies, meaning that diet and mental health were measured at the same time, so you can't tell which came first," said Jayne A. Fulkerson, Ph.D., director of the Center for Child and Family Health Promotion Research at the University of Minnesota, according to Medical Xpress. "However, we know that good nutrition can help children in a variety of ways, including better concentration, school performance, and weight, so providing healthful foods is an important factor to promote children's health, including mood."

The study, "Relationship between diet and mental health in children and adolescents: a systematic review," was published in the American Journal of Public Health.

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