Date of Award
Schools and Centres
This pilot study explored the potential role of food on young people’s mental health. Specifically, the aim was to determine if a relationship exists between extra food intake and depressive symptoms in adolescents’ age 12-17 years. It has been documented that mental health problems in young people result from a complex interaction of risk and protective factors. Eating behaviours and food intake has been investigated in early adolescence (age 10-14), however the specific contribution of extra food on depressive symptoms in mid adolescence has not been determined.
Extra food intake and depressive symptoms were collected from girls and boys in year 8 to 12 (age 12-17) at one middle socio-economic secondary school located in the Perth metropolitan area. Participants completed a daily food recall checklist each day in class from Monday to Thursday to collect extra food intake during the weekday and weekend. Extra food included take away, drinks, party food and snacks. For depressive symptoms, participants completed the Centre of Epidemiological- Depression Scale. Participants were asked to indicate how often in the previous week they had experienced the symptoms listed.
Non parametric tests found girls to have higher scores for depressive symptoms than boys. Girls had significantly higher depressive symptoms than boys in year 8 and 9, and the pattern of depressive symptoms for boys revealed a significant increase from years 9 to 10. Being female and in year 10 emerged as important risk factors to depressive symptoms. There were no significant gender or year differences for total extra food intake, however girls consumed significantly more take away, party food and snack food in year 8 and 9, but boys consumed significantly more take away than girls in year 11 and 12. Significantly more servings of take away and drinks were consumed on the weekend compared to the weekday.
A linear mixed model analysis reported that the consumption of drinks was related to depressive symptoms. Specifically, cordial intake appeared as a significant contributor to higher level of depressive symptoms in girls and year 10 students. The interactions between other types of extra food and specific years also became significant to depressive symptoms. The consumption of take away and drinks on the weekend emerged as significant contributors to depressive symptoms.
This study identifies the potential role of food intake on mental health problems. Previous research has focused on the overall diet in adolescents age 10-14 and has identified that a diet high in processed food is linked with self reported depressive symptoms. The results of this study have revealed important interactions between different types of food and specific years beyond age 14. In particular the consumption of drinks in year 10 is associated with a higher level and severity of depressive symptoms. Another important finding was the pattern of depressive symptoms between boys and girls, with girls having significantly higher depressive symptoms in years 8 and 9, and boys showing a significant increase from years 9 to 10. These results have important implications for future research and practice, particularly in the content and timing of messages about healthy eating and in addressing the risk and protective factors interacting during this time.
Bradshaw, E. (2011). Extra food intake and depressive symptoms in adolescents: Is there a relationship? (Masters's thesis). University of Notre Dame Australia, Fremantle, WA.