A study found that poor mental health is linked to poor diet quality – irrespective of personal characteristics such as age of gender, education, age, marital status and income.
The study, published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition on 16 February, revealed that adults in California who eat more unhealthy food were also more likely to report symptoms of moderate or severe psychological distress than their peers who eat a healthier diet.
Jim E. Banta, Ph.D., MPH, associate professor at the Loma Linda University School of Public Health and lead author of the study, said the results are similar to previous studies in other countries that have found a link between mental illness and unhealthy dietary choices. Increased sugar consumption was associated with bipolar disorder, for example, and depression was associated with the consumption of foods that were fried or contained high amounts of sugar and processed grains.
“This and other studies like it could have big implications for treatments in behavorial 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.”
Banta warned that there is no causal relationship between poor diet and mental illness. However, he said that California’s findings are based on previous studies and could affect future research and the approaches that healthcare providers administer for treatment with behavioral medicine.
As part of the multi-year California Health Interview Survey (CHIS), Banta and his team reviewed data from more than 240,000 telephone surveys conducted between 2005 and 2015. The CHIS dataset contains extensive information on socio-demographics, health status and health behaviors and was designed to provide state-wide approximations for California and various e regions.
The study found that almost 17% of adults in California are likely to suffer from mental illness – 13.2% with moderate psychological distress and 3.7% with severe psychological distress.
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.”