Effort to persuade teenagers and young adults to eat healthier foods have taken on fresh urgency, following a breakthrough finding by a Tasmanian researcher.
Professor Wendy Oddy at the Menzies Institute for Medical Research has, since 2009, been leading a study which has uncovered evidence of a link between excess consumption of fatty or sugary foods, and depression.
Her team has analysed the dietary patterns of more than 2600 adults now aged 30, whose eating habits - and their corresponding physical and mental health - have been tracked since the time of their mothers' pregnancies.
Prof Oddy said the analysis, which zeroed in on the individual's habits at age 14 and 17, suggested that excess junk food could cause teenagers harm, even when it did not make them obese.
She said it appeared to cause teenagers to lay down extra fat cells, which released toxins that could interfere with a person's nervous and hormonal systems, with implications for mental health.
Prof Oddy said insights gained from the study could be useful in mitigating many debilitating cases of depression.
"Perhaps with organisations like BeyondBlue, there could be more of a focus on a healthy diet ... fruit, vegetables, whole grain, fish and dietary fibre," she said.
Prof Oddy said her team was now studying specific food components and nutrients in an effort to learn more about the biological mechanisms that lead to mental health problems in young people.
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