How Does Diet and Nutrition Impact My Child’s Mental Health?

November 11, 2019

In light of the last post on dietary patterns and mental health adults, we want you to consider how dietary patterns impact the mental health of children and adolescents.

Why Is This An Important Consideration?

At Playa Vista Mental Health Medical Group, all of the practitioners parent small children. This post will serve to remind that your children and adolescents’ mental health and nutritional patterns are just as important as your own.

Research indicates that adolescence is the age-frame of potential onset of mental health disorders. Seeking and understanding knowledge and facts on the dietary patterns that can impact a child or adolescent can help you manage their mental health.

What Does the Research Say About Dietary Patterns and Mental Health in Children and Adolescence?

Research links dietary patterns to mental health outcomes in children and adolescents: One study of 5,000 adolescents linked healthy dietary patterns to decreased psychological or mental health symptoms, whereas unhealthy dietary patterns were linked to an increase in symptoms (Weng, Hao, Qian, Cao, Fu, Sun, & Tao, 2011). Similarly, a study of 7,000 adolescents linked higher unhealthy dietary patterns to increased rates of depression (Jacka, Kremer, Leslie, Berk, Patton, Toumbourou, & Williams, 2010). A large collective study with nearly 83,000 participants found positive correlations between unhealthy dietary patterns and poor mental health outcomes (O’Neil, Quirk, Housden, Brennan, Williams, Pasco, & Jacka, 2014).

Strategies to Support A Healthy Dietary Pattern in Children and Adolescence

There is Psychology Today article titled “How To Talk To Your Children About Food in a Healthy Way” that shares seven tips adults can utilize to promote healthy dietary patterns and lifestyle changes with children and adolescence.

Here are three tips particularly important:

1. Get Them Involved: The article recommends supporting the child by teaching them how to prepare a nutritious meal and learn nutritional facts. Getting your child involved helps to create long-term healthy habits that they will maintain into adulthood.

2. Don’t Label Foods as “Good” and “Bad”: The article recommends no longer creating stigmas around food, but explaining how specific foods are meant to help them grow stronger and healthier. I want to further recommend explaining to them how specific food are meant to help them grow stronger and healthier.

3. Educate them on healthy living rather than focusing on a healthy weight: The article recommends introducing healthy lifestyle changes, such cooking healthy meals, exercising, eating certain foods in moderation, rather than discussing weight loss and weight gain.

References

Jacka, F. N., Kremer, P. J., Leslie, E. R., Berk, M., Patton, G. C., Toumbourou, J. W., & Williams, J. W. (2010). Associations Between Diet Quality and Depressed Mood in Adolescents: Results from the Australian Healthy Neighbourhoods Study. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 44(5), 435–442. doi: 10.3109/00048670903571598

O’Neil, A., Quirk, S. E., Housden, S., Brennan, S. L., Williams, L. J., Pasco, J. A., … Jacka, F. N. (2014). Relationship Between Diet and Mental Health in Children and Adolescents: A Systematic Review. American Journal of Public Health, 104(10). doi: 10.2105/ajph.2014.302110

Weng, T.-T., Hao, J.-H., Qian, Q.-W., Cao, H., Fu, J.-L., Sun, Y., … Tao, F.-B. (2011). Is there any relationship between dietary patterns and depression and anxiety in Chinese adolescents? Public Health Nutrition, 15(4), 673–682. doi: 10.1017/s1368980011003077

About the Author
Dr. Fein is a psychiatrist in Los Angeles specializing in general adult and women's mental health.