FoodFacts.com devotes many blog posts to the importance of healthy eating habits. While there are many contributors to the worldwide obesity crisis, we do know with certainty that the prevalence of processed foods and beverages in our diets stands out as one of the significant causes of the current, continually growing problem of obesity. Particularly disturbing among children, rates of obesity keep climbing as healthy dietary habits continue to devolve around the globe. So we continually reiterate the importance of avoiding processed foods and beverages and emphasize the significant health benefits of fresh, whole foods prepared at home.
Today we read about a new study that underscores the importance of healthy eating habits during pregnancy, and the effects of the diets of expectant mothers on the next generation. Researchers have found that mothers who eat junk food while pregnant are more likely to have children with mental health problems.
Researchers from Deakin University in Australia, alongside researchers from Norway, analyzed more than 23,000 mothers who were a part of the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort study.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, gathered information regarding the mothers’ diets throughout pregnancy and their children’s diets at both 18 months and 3 years of age.
The mothers were also asked to complete questionnaires when their children were 18 months, 3-years and 5-years-old to establish symptoms of depression, anxiety, conduct disorder and ADHD. The researchers then analyzed the relationship between the mothers’ and children’s diets, and the mental health symptoms and behaviors in the children aged 18 months to five-years-old.
Results of the study reveal that mothers who eat more unhealthy foods during pregnancy, such as sweet drinks, refined cereals and salty foods, have children with increased behavioral problems, such as aggression and tantrums.
Additionally, the findings show that children who eat more unhealthy foods in their first years of life, or who lack nutrient-rich foods such as vegetables, also show increased aggression and behavioral problems, as well as symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Associate professor Felice Jacka, researcher at the IMPACT Strategic Research Center at Deakin University, says: “It is becoming even more clear that diet matters to mental health right across the age spectrum.”
“These new findings suggest that unhealthy and ‘junk’ foods may have an impact on the risk for mental health problems in children, and they add to the growing body of evidence on the impact of unhealthy diets on the risk for depression, anxiety and even dementia. The changes to our food systems, including the shift to more high-energy, low nutrition foods developed and marketed by the processed food industry, have led to a massive increase in obesity-related illnesses right across the globe,” she says.
While there is no need for mothers to go on special diets during pregnancy, it is important to eat a variety of different foods every day to make sure that both mother and child are getting the right balance of nutrients.
Other studies have also suggested potential health risks of eating junk food while pregnant. Animal research from the Royal Veterinary College in London in 2006 suggested a link between unhealthy food during pregnancy and the risk of obesity in offspring.
FoodFacts.com thinks it’s important to note that just as there has been an upswing in childhood obesity rates, there has also been an upswing in childhood depression and behavioral difficulties. While there’s been no definitive link between diet and childhood mental health, it is interesting that both obesity and depression/behavior challenges have risen at the same time that the proliferation of processed foods and beverages in our food supply is higher than it’s ever been. Certainly food for thought. While we want everyone to make the healthiest dietary choices, we want to make sure that expectant mothers everywhere take especially good care of themselves, for both their own well-being and the well-being of their precious children.