Mental Health Awareness Month: The Connection between Fast Food and Depression

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May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a particular month devoted to raising awareness and education about mental health and self-care, eliminating the stigma surrounding mental health disorders, and promoting the importance of routine mental health care. Mental health goes above and beyond the diagnosis and treatment for mental health disorders such as anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression. Mental health also includes being aware of our physical health, what we put in our bodies, our thoughts, our relationships, problem-solving strategies, our aptitude to overcome challenges, and our ability to comprehend and navigate the world around us.

“Whether for heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, or depression, health screenings provide a quick and easy way to spot the first signs of serious illness and can reach people who might not otherwise seek professional medical advice.

Major depression is one of the most common mental illnesses, affecting 6.7% (more than 16 million) of American adults each year. Like screenings for other illnesses, depression screenings should be a routine part of healthcare”.

Hamburgers, French fries, onion rings, hot dogs, frozen dinners, milkshakes, and pizza all taste good and are convenient when we are in a hurry. But are these foods nourishing our body and mind? Highly processed foods are high in sugar, fat, and sodium and lacking essential nutrients. With the depression rates increasing among teenagers, a new study found one of the reasons might be the fast-food diet.

Taking a look at the research

The researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham found high levels of sodium and low levels of potassium in urine samples obtained from high school students. Processed food and unhealthy snacks contain low levels of potassium. Low potassium is an indication of a diet lacking fruits and vegetables. “The study also found that higher urine levels of sodium, and potassium at baseline, predicted more signs of depression a year and a half later, even after adjusting for variables such as blood pressure, weight, age, and sex,” according to a CNN article. Depression among teenagers is on the rise, and statistics show the rate of major depressive episodes among kids 12 to 17 years of age within the last year had increased by 52% between 2005 and 2017. There is a strong correlation between video games, social media, and other electronics and depression. But it seems that an increase in the poor diet is also contributing to this rapid increase. Statistics show that approximately 34 percent of all children and adolescents, 2-19 years of age, eat fast food daily.

Ordering fast food with the press of a button

Advanced technology allows fast-food delivery services such as Uber Eats and DoorDash to be at your door with the press of a button. Fast food is now more readily available, especially to the younger generation who does not have their means of transportation. A car and driver’s license are no longer necessary to order fast food since a simple smartphone app has replaced drive-thru windows.

 “In 2016, the revenue of the restaurant industry in the United States reached 782.67 billion U.S. dollars, with the fast-food industry contributing an estimated 206 billion U.S. dollars to this figure. Consumer spending on food delivery in 2015 was worth around 30 billion U.S. dollars, four billion U.S. dollars of this was accounted for by online delivery sales”, according to statistics.

Poor physical health, fast food, and depression 

Diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and obesity are directly linked to poor diet in children and adults. Fast food is a leading cause of poor dietary habits in the United States. Research has shown that the development of these chronic diseases is highly linked to a decline in mental health. Individuals with diabetes are two to three times more likely to have depression compared to those without diabetes. Many individuals with diabetes have the following characteristics: high cortisone levels, a decreased quality of life, and lack of self-care. These factors can contribute to the development of depression. Fast food can contribute to diabetes in the following ways:

· Rapid breakdown of processed food: Highly processed foods that are low in fiber and high in calories rapidly break down into sugar, causing a steep spike in glucose levels

· Large portion sizes triggering sugar spikes and weight gain

· High-calorie food leading to weight gain: Weight gain is a leading factor in the development of Type 2 diabetes, which is now becoming more popular in the pediatric population.

· High sodium levels contribute to a rise in blood pressure, which is a risk for the development of Type 2 diabetes.

· High cholesterol: Fast foods are high in cholesterol, which can increase the levels of triglycerides in the blood increases the risk for type 2 diabetes.

Seeking help for depression 

If you suspect you or a loved one struggles with depression, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. The problem may only worsen without professional intervention, and in many cases, one problem can lead to the other. AKUA focuses on the whole body approach when treating mood disorders such as depression. With the right combination of psychotherapy and medications, your teen’s depression can be controlled.

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