In October 2013, results from a very large prospective cohort study of 20,000 women and their young children indicated early poor nutritional exposures in utero were related to risk for behavioral and emotional problems in their children7. These difficulties were more severe if the child’s dietary pattern after birth was also poor.
The mechanisms behind these effects in children and adolescents are not well described. Beyond the obvious neurologic development in utero, we know that neurologic development continues after birth and extends throughout childhood and adolescence into young adulthood8. It therefore appears logical that a highly nutrient dense diet could result in an advantage in brain development with cognitive, emotional, and behavioral implications.
This could be an effect additional to the now apparent influence diet has on the mental health of adults through inflammation and the immune system, oxidative stress and neurotrophic factors. Focus on psychiatric disorders in childhood and adolescence is particularly important given the fact that three quarters of lifetime psychiatric disorders will first emerge by late adolescence or early adulthood9. There appear to be a multitude of reasons why judicious choice of dietary patterns are particularly important to establish early.
1 Twenge JM, Gentile B, DeWall CN, Lacefield K, et al. (2010) Birth cohort increases in psychopathology among young Americans, 1938–2007: A cross-temporal meta-analysis of the MMPI.Clin Psychol Rev 30: 145–154. 21.
2 Cavadini C, Siega-Riz AM, Popkin BM (2000) US adolescent food intake trends from 1965 to 1996. West J Med 173: 378–383.
3 Ogden CL, Flegal KM, Carroll MD, Johnson CL (2002) Prevalence and trends in overweight among US children and adolescents, 1999–2000. Jama 288: 1728–1732.
4 Oddy WH, Robinson M, Ambrosini GL, de Klerk NH, et al. (2009) The association between dietary patterns and mental health in early adolescence. Prev Med 49: 39–44.
5 Jacka FN, Kremer PJ, Leslie E, Berk M, Patton G, et al. (2010) Associations between diet quality and depressed mood in adolescents: results from the Healthy Neighbourhoods study. Aust N Z J Psychiatry 44: 435–442. 10.
6 Jacka FN, Kremer PJ, Berk M, de Silva-Sanigorski AM, Moodie M, et al. (2011) A prospective study of diet quality and mental health in adolescents. PLoS ONE 6(9)