(Photo:Flickr/Sam Howzit)

A balanced, healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables is important for teenagers for reasons that go beyond maintaining their waistlines, say Australian researchers. A new study shows that a poor diet is linked to mental health problems in adolescents.

Researchers from Deakin University surveyed 3,000 Australians between the ages of 11 and 18 about their eating habits in 2005 and then again in 2007. The survey revealed that adolescents who ate more processed foods and junk food were more likely to suffer from mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. Adolescents with healthier diets in 2005 had fewer mental health problems that year than those with poorer diets. And in 2007, those who improved their eating habits had fewer mental health problems than those whose eating habits were poor.

Researcher Felice Jacka told the Australian Associated Press that promoting healthy eating habits at a young age could help deter instances of depression, anxiety and other mental health problems.

“We know depression and anxiety have a very early age of onset and they are common in adolescents, and it looks like quality of their diets could be linked to a risk of mental health problems,” she said. “The results suggest we shouldn’t just be looking at obesity as a potential outcome of poor diet, we need to look at mental health and physical health as potential outcomes.”

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

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