In a recently released article in Pediatrics,Loewen et al show that the development of mental illness in adolescents may be closely associated with the number of healthy lifestyle behaviors adopted during childhood (10.1542/peds.2018-3307). This finding is congruent with what one might expect; studies have previously shown a positive association between healthy dietary habits and increased physical activity with lower rates of depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses in both teens and adults1,2,3.
But what is most striking about Loewen et al’s study is that the impact of healthy lifestyle interventions appears to be additive. Their study showed that as the number of lifestyle recommendations adhered to in children 10 - 11 years of age increased, the number of physician visits related to mental health complaints during adolescence decreased proportionately. They found that children meeting between 7 - 9 lifestyle recommendations had 56% fewer mental health visits in the following 4 years as compared to other children who only met 1 - 3 recommendations.
As a primary care pediatrician, I find this information critical to providing appropriate guidance and counseling, especially for those “pre-teens,” whose future psyche may benefit the most from healthy habits earlier rather than later. Convincing my 10-year-old patient (and his or her parents) that the adoption of even a single healthy lifestyle behavior - such as reduced screen time or increased physical activity - may come easier by explaining that such a suggestion has been shown to be associated with a reduction in the risk of future mental illness by 15%. In my opinion, this is more than a fair trade. Incorporation of this guidance into our well child checks is one way we might help to decrease the prevalence of mental illness within our communities while helping to foster happier and more well-adjusted individuals.
- O’Neil, Adrienne, et al. “Relationship Between Diet and Mental Health in Children and Adolescents: A Systematic Review.” American Journal of Public Health, vol. 104, no. 10, 2014, doi:10.2105/ajph.2014.302110.
- Lai, Jun S, et al. “A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Dietary Patterns and Depression in Community-Dwelling Adults.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 99, no. 1, 2013, pp. 181–197., doi:10.3945/ajcn.113.069880.
- Korczak, Daphne J., et al. “Children’s Physical Activity and Depression: A Meta-Analysis.” Pediatrics, vol. 139, no. 4, 2017, doi:10.1542/peds.2016-2266.