Junk food could play key role in anxiety and depression, study finds

Could a poor diet be linked to poor mental health? One new study done in Southern California suggests they are related.

Doughnut breaks help high school junior Tristan Wong deal with the stress of his busy life.

"Sometimes when I'm working and I feel stressed," he said, "I wanna have sugar or something like a bag of chips. "

And Wong isn't alone - especially among his generation.

"People in my grade, my peers," he said, "They don't eat well. And they work and they're busy."

We know a poor diet leads to illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease, but now a new Loma Linda University study of Californians examines the link between junk food and mental health.

Loma Linda University's Jim Banta, Ph.D. said, "Almost 28 million adults are represented in the study. And of those, one million have serious psychological distress and 3.6 million have moderate psychological distress."

Banta said regardless of race, age, marital status and income, Californians whose diet consisted mainly of fast and processed foods reported the most depression, anxiety and schizophrenia.

"They certainly had a worse diet compared to those who had lower psychological distress," he said.

Did poor diet lead to mental health issues or was it the other way around?

Researchers said this study can't tell us that, but Banta said he believes if we can find a way to get people struggling with mental health to eat better, not only could it improve mental health, but it could also prevent many premature deaths.

"That's what happens with people with mental illness. They die from heart disease and diabetes at a younger age," he said.

Banta said it's difficult for someone who's anxious or depressed to eat better but he says doctors need to take a more active role in discussing what their patients eat.

And Banta said much of the focus needs to be on young adults.

"If they're eating bad food as a 20 year old, that's probably going to continue throughout the rest of their life," he said.

Tristan wants to make a change.

"Find healthier outlets other than junk food," he said, "Maybe I shouldn't rely on eating to make my self feel better because it's not a long term solution."
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