Early ‘Junk Food’ Exposure Risks Kids’ Mental Health

Caroline Cassels

Aug 20, 2013

Along with the myriad negative effects on physical health, “junk food” during pregnancy and in early childhood is linked to a significantly increased risk for poor mental health, including anxiety and depression, in very young children, new research shows.

A large, prospective study by investigators at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia, showed that higher intakes of unhealthy food by mothers during pregnancy were linked to higher levels of behavioral and emotional problems in children. Both an increased intake of unhealthy food and, independently, reduced consumption of healthy, nutrient-dense food by children during the first years of life were also linked to increased levels of these problems.

“This study comes from the largest cohort study in the world and is the first to suggest that poor diet in both pregnant women and their children is a risk factor for children’s mental health problems,” principal investigator Felice Jacka, PhD, told Medscape Medical News in an email.

The study was published online August 17 in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Food and Mood Link

Several studies by Dr. Jacka and colleagues, as well as other research groups, have demonstrated a clear link between mood and food. One of Dr. Jacka’s most recent studies, published in September 2011 in PLoS One and reported by Medscape Medical News at that time, showed that diet quality has a significant effect on mental health outcomes and may play a role in the prevention and treatment of common psychiatric disorders such as depression and anxiety in teens….