The prevalence of mental health issues in the general pediatric population is high, increasing in frequency from childhood through adolescence. Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey show that the 12-month prevalence of mental health disorders for children aged 8-15 years is 13.1%. The National Institute of Mental Health indicates that the lifetime prevalence of mental health disorders in children aged 13-18 years is 46.2%, with the lifetime prevalence of “severe disorders” being 21.4%.3 In decreasing order of frequency, this grouping of mental health disorders includes:
• Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder
• Mood disorders
• Conduct disorder
• Anxiety disorders
• Panic disorders
• Eating disorders
One study published by PMC found the following:
"We found evidence of a significant, cross-sectional relationship between unhealthy dietary patterns and poorer mental health in children and adolescents. We observed a consistent trend for the relationship between good-quality diet and better mental health and some evidence for the reverse."
The study goes on to say:
"Dietary intake may also have a direct impact on various biological systems and mechanisms that underpin depression, including oxidative processes, the functioning of the immune system, and levels of salient brain proteins. For example, in patients with depression, markers of systemic inflammation are often significantly greater than in controls, which is indicative of immune system dysregulation. Studies have indicated that markers of inflammation are positively correlated with components of a poor diet, and a healthy diet is associated with reduced inflammation. The available evidence also suggests that high-fat, high-sugar diets can affect proteins that are important in brain development, such as the signaling molecule brain-derived neurotrophic factor. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor is often reduced in patients with depression,35 and when its synthesis is increased, symptoms of depression can improve."
There seems to be a disconnect between how we are raising children, what we are putting into their bodies and how it is affecting them.
1. Reduce/Remove Sugar
Cutting sugar from our diet may be easier said than done; we are bombarded with advertisements for convenience foods and tasty treats. But even seemingly healthful foods can have high levels of hidden sugars. These culprits include breakfast cereals, sauces (including ketchup and pasta sauce), flavored milks, wholemeal bread, and many products labeled as low fat, such as fruit yogurts. Smoothies and fruit juices for children were in the spotlight last year in an article published in BMJ Open. The authors noted that per standard portion, "over 40 percent of products surveyed contained at least 19 grams of sugar - a child's entire maximum daily amount of free sugars." High sugar levels have also been reported in baby and toddler food products. One way to keep tabs on sugar consumption is to become familiar with nutritional labels. While the list of ingredients might claim no added sugars, the nutrition facts panel will show the amount of carbohydrates and sugars in the product.
What is the evidence that cutting down on sugars will have health benefits?
Studies have indicated that individuals who experience depression benefit from eating a healthful diet.
Importantly, choosing foods that are low in refined ingredients, such as sugar, but high in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals can relieve the symptoms of depression. Scientists think that the power of these foods lies in promoting good brain health.
2. Back to Basics
Children need to do REAL things that teach them lessons and values. Simple everyday things like making their beds and doing mundane chores helps reduce the constant brain stimulation that they are otherwise experiencing. Good old things like raising a puppy, growing something, building something or playing board games are great ways to keep kids engaged in something with lasting effects. Kids who spend too much time on devices are prone to depression and anxiety for a number of reasons, you can find out more here.
3. Keep Their Gut Healthy
We know that the microbiota can influence human health in three major ways: direct communication (yes, they are whispering to you via your vagus nerve), hormonal, and immune system effects. It stands to reason these same pathways would exist in children too. Supporting the gut diversity of a child with good lifestyle habits including lots of sleep, plenty of play outdoors, healthy food, and avoiding antibiotics unless necessary is a great way to make both your child and their gut as happy and healthy as can be. The best way to support a healthy gut is with fermented foods and of course probiotics.
4. Follow our Top Ten
A simple way to keep kids on track with living a healthy lifestyle and maintaining balance is by following our Top Ten Healthy Habits!