You are what you eat: UAB researchers find a link between diet and depression in teens

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) -- Depression rates are rising among American teenagers. Studies show a spike of more than 30 percent in the number of teens with depressive symptoms over the last decade. Now, new research from UAB shows that what teens are eating may be to blame.

“We know that teen depression is becoming more of an issue, we also know that children’s and adolescents’ diet has been getting worse, teens are consuming more sugary drinks and unhealthy foods,” says Dr. Sylvie Mrug, Ph.D., Chair of the UAB Department of Psychology. ”It’s important to get the message out for us to understand what effects unhealthy diet has on health, both mental health and physical health.”

That’s why she led a research team to follow dozens of mostly African American adolescents, in urban, low-income homes for a year and a half. They found that teens who had diets high in sodium and low in potassium had higher levels of depression over time. Girls ages 13-15 are especially at risk for symptoms of depression.

“I think for parents it’s very important to understand some of the key factors that play a role in depression, our study shows that diet is an important contributing factor so what can help to keep teens in a good state of mental health is consuming a healthier diet that stays away from fast foods, frozen meals, unhealthy snacks, but a diet that’s rich in fresh fruits, vegetables, beans and other healthy foods,” says Mrug.

Mrug is now working on a study about school lunches, following middle school students to see what they are eating, and how it impacts their behavior, emotions and overall functioning.

“It’s important to get the message out for us to understand what effects unhealthy diet has on health, both mental health and physical health,” says Mrug.

You can learn more about her and her work here.

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Read the original version of this article at wsfa.com.