Junk Food Linked To Moderate & Severe Psychological Distress

Last Updated: 2 Jul 2019

A study has found that poor mental health is linked with poor diet quality—regardless of personal characteristics such as gender age, education, age, marital status and income level.

February 21, 2019, Loma Linda, CA—The study, published Feb. 16 in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, revealed that California adults who consumed more unhealthy food were also more likely to report symptoms of either moderate or severe psychological distress than their peers who consume a healthier diet.

Jim E. Banta, PhD, MPH, associate professor at Loma Linda University School of Public Health and lead author of the study, said the results are similar to previous studies conducted in other countries that have found a link between mental illness and unhealthy diet choices. Increased sugar consumption has been found to be associated with bipolar disorder, for example, and consumption of foods that have been fried or contain high amounts of sugar and processed grains have been linked with depression.

“This and other studies like it could have big implications for treatments in behavorial medicine,” Banta said. “Perhaps the time has come for us to take a closer look at the role of diet in mental health, because it could be that healthy diet choices contribute to mental health. More research is needed before we can answer definitively, but the evidence seems to be pointing in that direction.”

Banta cautioned that the link found between poor diet and mental illness is not a causal relationship. Still, he said the findings from California build upon previous studies and could affect future research and the approaches that healthcare providers administer for behavioral medicine treatments.

In their study, Banta and his team reviewed data from more than 240,000 telephone surveys conducted between 2005 and 2015 as part of the multi-year California Health Interview Survey (CHIS). The CHIS dataset includes extensive information about socio-demographics, health status and health behaviors and was designed to provide statewide approximations for regions within California and for various ethnic groups.

The study found that nearly 17 percent of California adults are likely to suffer from mental illness — 13.2 percent with moderate psychological distress and 3.7 percent with severe psychological distress.

The study stated that the team’s findings provide “additional evidence 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.”

Source: Loma Linda University Adventist Health Sciences Center

  1. @Anya married2aBPhusband As someone who struggles with both bipolar and an eating disorder, I can only tell you that it’s not easy. I’m sorry that he refuses to get help, but there are times when the cravings are so overpowering that they overtake anything and everything that goes on in your life. I take a medication called Vyvanse that has helped me somewhat, but it’s still an everyday battle I have to fight. Stay strong – – we don’t do it to cause pain or hurt to the ones we love, we overeat because we are irrationally compelled to do so.

  2. I totally see a difference in my mood level whenever I eat a certain way. I am a vegetarian, trying to make the change to veganism, but every time I go into a mild depression or when it’s that time of the month (hey ladies!) the only thing I want to eat is cheese pizza, chocolate lava cakes, and anything else that contains dairy. Not blaming my bipolar disorder for not being able to stop eating dairy but since I went 21 years of my life un-diagnosed I created the habit of using food as my medicine when depressed.

    On the other side of this when I eat as healthy as I possibly can, my balanced moods stay longer and I feel greatly positive about everything. Food is a huge piece of the puzzle when it comes to mental health, in my opinion.

  3. Currently seeing this with my BP husband(untreated). He eats out of control..sweets, fried food, junk food,soda, you name it. When he cooks you better believe it will be fried like it’s the only way he knows how to cook. Everyone else doesn’t like fried food. He complains when I don’t cook fried this or that. He binge eats, so good luck hoping to find left overs. You have to engorge yourself at mealtime; because going to get anything later is a lost cause. He waits until everyone is sleep; then raids the fridge of anything and everything, without regard that Others live in the house. Food set aside for lunch for work…eaten. His response is always, “Thought it was for me” or “Didn’t want it to go to waste”. He eats like it’s a race; but everyone else eats normal, and quickly loses their appetite. He’s already has 2nd and 3rd servings while everyone else still eating 1st serving. When he fixes plates, his is overflowing while yours barely has anything on it. When most people drink 16 ounces at a meal, he thinks 32 or more ounces is considered the amount to quench your thirst. For a good visual, if you watched the 1st Shrek, the point where Shrek ate his rat and was wanting Fiona’s rat, as well, that’s how my husband is. Yes, my husband could be considered a glutton; but he doesn’t see it that way, never does. He just sees it as hunger. He can go through a pack of slice and bake cookies by himself, without regard to whether others might have wanted any. Our food costs for a small family are larger than my friends who have larger families, because of his outrageous eating habits. Add his addictions(alcohol and cannabis); then you have a whole other level of excessive hunger. He can eat all night long and Still be hungry and wanting what someone(who hasn’t spent all night long binge eating) fixes to eat. It’s like it drives him crazy to not have the most of whatever food is in the house. Like nobody is supposed to eat it but him…that’s pretty sad, if you think about it.
    So consumption of sweets and fried food being linked to BP and depression has shed light on things; but doesn’t make amends for his behavior. He eats like this whether in or out of Manic or Depressive stage. Yes, it strains the marriage because he is only concerned with self. I and everyone else is steadily losing weight; but not him. I’m trying to be supportive; but his refusal to get treatment and his moods keeps everyone walking on eggshells.

    1. Hi Anya,
      I understand your frustration with your husband. I know it seems selfish, but I believe it is a real addiction that is out of control. I am bipolar 2 and I believe that I have an unhealthy addiction to food, especially sugary and starchy foods. I definitely feel ashamed about it, but I compulsively eat, especially in the middle of the night when I have insomnia. My brain will think of a food and all of a sudden I have this crazy uncontrollable craving for that food. I can’t sleep or get it off my mind until I have it and lots of it. It’s a big relief while I’m eating the food, but soon after I feel so sick from eating so much and have remorse for being so out of control. I swear every time that I’m not going to overstuff myself again and then here I go again stuffing my face to combat my emotional cravings. Many people who are bipolar either abuse substances, overspend, overeat, etc.. It’s a sad illness of extremes, to compensate for the overwhelming pain that it causes.

  4. No, poor nutritional choices are not the cause for the diagnosis of bipolar… however, management of my symptoms is DIRECTLY related to the foods I ingest causing an increase in the degree of a mood change, the level of emotions and how quickly I gain health… I love love this article – anything that helps me manage symptoms helps me feel empowered and to strive towards healthy self care!!!

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