Is junk food linked to psychological distress?

We have written before about food and mood, but a study has now found that poor mental health is linked with poor diet quality, regardless of gender, age, education, marital status and income level.

The study, from the Loma Linda University School of Public Health in southern California, has found that adults who consumed more unhealthy food were also more likely to report symptoms of either moderate or severe psychological distress compared to their peers eating a healthier diet.

While no causal relationship was established, the findings do correlate with previous studies linking mental illness and poor diet choices. In this study, data from more than 240,000 telephone surveys conducted between 2005 and 2015 as part of the extensive dataset from the multi-year California Health Interview Survey was analysed. The researchers found that nearly 17 percent of these adults are likely to suffer from mental illness – 13.2 percent with moderate psychological distress and 3.7 percent with severe psychological distress. On the strength of the findings the team found sufficient evidence to recommend 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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