“Junk food” during pregnancy and in early childhood is linked to a significantly increased risk for poor mental health, including anxiety and depression, in very young children, new research shows.
A large, prospective study included 23,020 women and their children showed that higher intakes of unhealthy food during pregnancy, as well as a lack of healthy food in children during the first years of life, were linked to higher levels of behavioral and emotional problems, such as tantrums and aggression, more of “externalizing” behaviors as well as increased “internalizing” behaviors, indicative of depression and anxiety.
On the basis of these data, women were categorized into 2 major dietary patterns — a “healthy” pattern, characterized by high intake of vegetables, fruit, high-fiber cereals, and vegetable oils, and an “unhealthy” pattern, characterized by a high intake of processed meat products, refined cereals, sweet drinks, and salty snacks.
“Both an increased intake of unhealthy foods and a decreased intake of nutrient-rich foods in early childhood were independently related to higher internalizing and externalizing behaviors in young children. These behaviors are established early markers for later mental health problems,” the researchers write. (read more…)