Fast food and depression may be linked, according to a new research study analyzing the relationship between eating fast food and processed baked goods and the risk of depression.
Most of us are aware of the concern over rising obesity rates, in part caused by increased consumption of burgers and fries, as well as muffins, croissants and other commercially baked goods. But there has been little to no research done on junk food and depression.
The journal of Public Health Nutrition recently published a study1 done by researchers in Spain assessing the relationship between eating processed foods and developing clinical depression. The study on the link between food and depression followed the eating habits of 8,964 participants over the course of an average of 6.2 years. This group of people was free of cardiovascular disease, hypertension and diabetes, and did not have a clinical diagnosis of depression. None of the people in the study were taking antidepressant medication.
The participants were required to fill out a questionnaire at the beginning of the study. It allowed researchers to assess their fast food eating habits (which included hamburgers, sausage and pizza) and their consumption of baked goods (muffins, donuts, croissants, and other pastries). The study participants were then divided into five groups based on the amount of each food group that they regularly consumed.
In addition to the two variables, researchers also collected data in other areas they thought might influence the relationship between certain types of food and depression, such as: age, sex, body mass index (BMI), smoking, physical activity level, total energy intake and healthy food consumption. The researchers adjusted for the influence of these variables during their statistical analysis.
The results were quite telling. They found that people with the highest consumption of fast food and commercial baked goods had a 37% increased risk of developing depression as compared to the lowest consumption group.
Although their findings don’t conclusively show that eating a large amount of processed food can cause depression, it does suggest that there may be a relationship between eating fast food or processed foods and developing depression. The study shows that junk food and depression may be related in some cases.
It isn’t clear whether people who consume fast food aren’t getting the nutrients they need to maintain good mental health, or if eating processed food causes problems. (The link between mental health and foods rich in nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids and B vitamins has been well established.) Either way, this may be yet another reason to limit those trips to your favorite fast food joint. That doesn’t mean you can never enjoy your favorite burger again, just remember that everything in moderation can benefit your waistline, and possibly, the state of your mental health.
1Almudena Sánchez-Villegasa et al. Fast-food and commercial baked goods consumption and the risk of depression. Public Health Nutrition March 2012 15: pp 424-432